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Friday, September 18, 2020

MRC director reacts to Imperial College professor’s claims

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In terse statement emailed to this paper over the weekend, Prof Umberto stated: “The news item (Bantaba) regarding a possible Ebola vaccine trial reported in your newspaper on September 5th 2014 contains some extreme inaccuracies. As director of the MRC Unit, The Gambia, I would be the lead investigator if such a trial was to go ahead but I must stress that the trial will only take place after obtaining permission from The Gambia Government and the relevant scientific and ethical committees.”

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In an article which was reproduced by The Standard and widely published by top newspapers in London, Professor Beate Kampman of the department of Paediatrics at Imperial Collage London, claimed she will be the lead researcher of Ebola vaccine trial to be conducted in The Gambia through the MRC. 

In the interview, Prof Kampman gave details of the proposed vaccine trial:  “It will be the first test of the vaccine in humans in Africa, following on from safety tests also in volunteers in Oxford and will analyse the safety of the vaccine and the immune response. After vaccination, we will follow the volunteers over six months and collect blood samples. The volunteers in The Gambia will stay at the MRC Unit for the first 24 hours for observation. They will then be visited daily over the next several days and after this, they will visit the Unit regularly for further sampling and reviews. The MRC Unit in the Gambia has its own laboratories so some of the analysis will be done on site and other samples will be sent off to collaborating laboratories, where all samples from all trial sites can be examined in the same lab and comparisons can be made across sites and individuals. The Unit is very well resourced – it has over 1,000 staff, 200 of which are actively involved in research and a number of these are from Imperial. Some samples will also be shipped to the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is running a parallel study in Uganda on a different vaccination against two species of the virus, Ebola Zaire and Ebola Sudan. The vaccine we will be using is just for the Ebola Zaire species, which is the strain causing the current outbreak in West Africa.” 

The article described Professor Kampmann as an expert in infection and immunity and spends half her time at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit in The Gambia where she is in charge of research in vaccinology and has run several vaccination trials, including for prevention of pneumococcal disease, polio and meningitis.

When this paper broke news that MRC will be testing the Ebola vaccine in The Gambia, Professor Umberto D’Alessandro, who it is reported will be “a principal investigator of the trial” had said:  “Thanks to the long-term collaboration between the UK’s MRC and the Gambian government’s Ministry of Health, the unit has the proven capacity and expertise to carry out trials to the highest quality standards including trials for vaccines similar to this one. The proposed trial won’t benefit immediately those currently at risk but we hope that in a not too distant future we may be able to protect people against Ebola.”

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