Ella Foundation, a non-profit research organization led by Krishna Ella, chairman of vaccine maker Bharat Biotech International Pvt. Ltd, on Monday said it had completed preliminary studies on a candidate Ebola vaccine.

Ella Foundation said the vaccine is still a few stages away from entering clinical trials for testing on human participants for safety and efficacy.

The vaccine being developed at the foundation uses re-engineered human adenovirus, in which an optimized gene of the Ebola virus strain from the 2014 African outbreak was plugged in to express a single harmless Ebola protein.

This protein prompted an immune response among mice, said Nagendra R. Hegde, group leader and senior scientist at Ella Foundation. “In the mice models, the vaccine was able to produce enough antibodies," Hegde said.

The vaccine still has to go through preclinical stages, including characterization and toxicological studies.

Adenovirus is commonly associated with the common cold. The recombinant version of the virus is used as a carrier to develop vaccines for other pathogens.

Because of the regulatory and safety issues surrounding access to the Ebola virus strain, Ella Foundation said it sourced synthetically developed genetic material or bio-reagent of the Ebola virus strain from US-based GenScript Inc.

“It took us two months to get regulatory approvals from India and the US to import bio-reagent of Ebola virus," said Ella.

Ella said the entire programme was funded by his foundation, which runs on research grants and Ella’s own contributions. The Ella Foundation is now seeking the government’s help to take the vaccine into clinical trials, as the foundation does not have the finances to fund such a trial.

“It requires up to 50 crore, which is beyond our means," Ella said.

To be sure, there has been no known case of Ebola diagnosed in India so far. Ebola vaccines as of now have no commercial viability in India, but will help in national preparedness in the event of an outbreak.

Governments in the US, UK, Canada, Russia and China are funding Ebola vaccine programmes involving their research institutions and biotech companies.

The UK’s GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) and US-based National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are co-developing an Ebola vaccine using a similar pathway to Ella Foundation’s candidate—but using a recombinant chimpanzee adenovirus as the carrier.

The deadly Ebola virus, which takes its name from the Ebola river that flows through the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa, spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

According to the World Health Organization, as on 22 April, the 2014 Ebola outbreak caused 10,824 deaths in West African nations, including Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, severely hurting their economies.

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