At NIH, Obama calls for Ebola treatment research funding

Interim results on potential EVD vaccine published in NEJM

During a visit to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on December 2, President Barack Obama acknowledged the progress researchers have been making on a potential Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) vaccine.

Interim results of Phase 1 of the clinical trial were reported online November 26 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The vaccine was tested on 20 healthy adults at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, and was found to be well tolerated and safe. Only two volunteers developed a fever within a day of taking the vaccine.

“No potential Ebola vaccine has ever made it this far,” said Obama. But he did add this was a first step and that there were no guarantees.  

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, MD, said in a press statement that the positive Phase 1 clinical trial results support accelerated development for larger human trials.

While EVD may not be leading in the news right now, the president made the case during his speech that this kind of progress was a reminder of the importance of government-funded research and the need to keep investing in it.

“We cannot let down our guard, even for a minute. And we can’t just fight this epidemic. We have to extinguish it,” he said.

Obama used the visit as an opportunity to ask Congress for emergency funding that’s running out—specifically, for a $6.2 billion request Congress needs to approve before the holiday recess that will give the government the capability to respond to isolated cases of EVD and to fight any outbreaks now and in the future. NIH is also working on potential treatments for EVD.

Based on the overall success of the first phase of the clinical trial, the next step for the potential vaccine, which is being developed by NIAID along with GlaxoSmithKline, will be to test the vaccine on a larger scale in Liberia.

The president said there has been a decline in infection rates in Liberia and he attributed some of that success to efforts by U.S. personnel to train hundreds of new health care workers each week; improving the burial processes across Liberia; and opening a new medical unit in early November.

But he said the epidemic is getting worse in Sierra Leone and progress remains to be seen in Guinea.

“As long as this disease continues to rage in West Africa, we could continue to see isolated cases here in America,” he said.

The president echoed what many experts have been saying all along: stopping EVD at its source remains the best way to fight the disease.