BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

January 28, 2019

Research Roundup: Ebola found in West African bat for the first time, global health R&D money reaches record high, and temperature-stable TB vaccine enters clinical testing

Ansley Kahn
Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Patrick McKern

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Scientists have discovered the Ebola virus in a Miniopterus inflatus bat in Liberia—marking the first time the virus has been found in a bat in West Africa. Though no human cases of Ebola are linked to this discovery, it is nonetheless a step forward in understanding where human Ebola cases come from—an unanswered question surrounding outbreaks of the virus. Though bats have long been a suspected reservoir for Ebola—meaning the virus can live and grow inside them without harming them—researchers still don’t know what animal or animals carry the virus or how it spreads to people. Notably, the Miniopterus inflatus is an insect-eating bat, whereas most experts say that the natural animal host for Ebola is some type of fruit bat, not one that eats insects. Experts claim more study is required to determine which, if any, bat species are a natural host for the Ebola virus. Researchers are also working to determine whether the virus found in the bat in Liberia is the same exact virus that caused the West Africa Ebola epidemic and the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Global investment in research and development (R&D) for neglected diseases reached an all-time recorded high in 2017 of US$3.5 billion, a seven percent increase from the previous year, according to the G-FINDER report by Policy Cures Research, which has tracked annual global investment for 11 years. Though the United States remained the largest funder, G-FINDER reported significant increases in funding contributions from other governments—including the United Kingdom, the European Commission, Germany, and India. Notably, despite a record high in funding for neglected disease R&D globally, no country reached the World Health Organization target for member states to spend 0.01 percent of their Gross Domestic Product on research for the health needs of developing countries.

A phase 1 human clinical trial has begun for a freeze-dried, temperature stable formulation of a tuberculosis (TB) vaccine candidate. A freeze-dried powder vaccine—which does not require a temperature-controlled transportation system—can be distributed at a lower cost and with reduced logistical burdens, especially in low-resource settings. In this trial, researchers are examining if the vaccine candidate, ID93, and the adjuvant GLA-SE, an immune response-stimulating protein, can be combined into a single vial and remain as effective at inducing an immune response as the previously tested two-vial combination. This recombinant vaccine candidate is being developed as a vaccine that could be administered to people who have already been exposed to TB or those who have received the TB vaccine Bacillus Calmette-Guérin—which is commonly given to babies in TB-endemic regions but does not adequately prevent TB in adolescents or adults. Early stage clinical trials in South Africa and the United States have shown the recombinant vaccine candidate to be immunogenic and safe.

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