The slowdown in the West African Ebola epidemic is welcome news and reason to be hopeful—but it’s also creating a new problem. With fewer new cases occurring, it is becoming more and more difficult to test vaccines and drugs. As a result, conflicts are looming over who can test Ebola drugs and vaccines in Guinea and Sierra Leone.
In Guinea, a large consortium that includes Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) vaccinated the first volunteers at risk of Ebola on Monday in a big trial of a vaccine produced by Merck and NewLink Genetics. But the team feels threatened because researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) are looking to move another vaccine study from Liberia, where the epidemic has come to a virtual standstill, to Guinea.
The U.S. move could jeopardize the Guinean trial, says John-Arne Røttingen of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, who chairs the study’s steering committee. “Can the two trials be going on in the same place? I don’t think so,” says Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at WHO. ”There is a risk, if this is not done in an orderly way, that neither trial is conclusive in the end.”
But Clifford Lane, head of clinical research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, which is part of NIH, says that Guinea, which reported 45 new patients last week, can accommodate both studies. “Guinea is basically as large as Sierra Leone and Liberia together,” he says. “It would seem reasonable to at least explore the possibility.”