FDA Breakthrough Designation; EMA “PRIME” Designation — For Merck/NewLink V920 Ebola Vaccine Candidate

We must remark once again just how hard it is — to overstate the importance of this vaccine candidate — in arresting the last Ebola epidemic, in Africa. The so-called V920 rVSV∆G-ZEBOV-GP vaccine has thus far proven 100 per cent effective, when deployed in a ring fashion, against the virus in people who’ve come in close contact with an active Ebola carrier.

So it makes sense that both the European Medicines Agency, and the US FDA would put the candidate on a fast track to approval. And that’s just what both have done, as of this morning. While Kenilworth certainly deserves generous plaudits for its work in both finishing the R&D, and actually mass-producing the vaccine — and getting it intact and active, into the very difficult geographic environment Africa presents — we should not forget the ten years plus worth of solid work of Canadian Public Health Agency scientists, and the NewLink Genetics team. Here’s a bit from the story, out of Ames, Iowa this morning — do go read it all:

. . . .Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, [along with Ames, Iowa-based NewLinks Genetics] has reached two key regulatory milestones for the Ebola Zaire vaccine candidate known as V920 (rVSV∆G-ZEBOV-GP). The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted the vaccine candidate Breakthrough Therapy Designation, and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has provided the vaccine candidate PRIME (PRIority MEdicines) status.

V920 was initially engineered by scientists from the Public Health Agency of Canada and subsequently licensed to NewLink Genetics. In late 2014, when the peak of the Ebola outbreak in western Africa was at its worst, NewLink Genetics licensed V920 to Merck, with the goal of accelerating the development, regulatory approval, and availability of this candidate vaccine. Merck is responsible for the research, development, manufacturing, and regulatory efforts in support of V920. Since that time, Merck continues to work closely with NewLink Genetics and their external collaborators to accelerate development and licensure.

“These regulatory designations reflect great credit upon the extraordinary public-private partnerships which have allowed the vaccine candidate to be included in 12 Phase 1, 2 and 3 studies on three continents in less than two years,” said Thomas P. Monath, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Operating Officer of the Infectious Disease Division of NewLink Genetics. Charles L. Link, Jr., M.D., Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer of NewLink Genetics emphasized that, “While the Ebola Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is over, we know the threat of re-emergence remains. We are encouraged by these FDA and EMA decisions which we hope will aid progress of the candidate vaccine towards potential licensure. . . .”

And bit by bit, the world’s bio-science community is putting the WHO in a position to much more quickly arrest future outbreaks. Sadly, it is an inescapable fact of biology that the virus will eventually reappear — but it need not become an epidemic, the next time around. Smiling widely — on a clear mid-summer Monday morning, now — brimming with optimism on my walk in, here. Be excellent to one another.

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