Following a first-ever outbreak of deadly Marburg virus disease in Equatorial Guinea, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday called an emergency meeting of the Marburg virus vaccine consortium (MARVAC) to receive an urgent update on possible vaccine candidates for the filovirus that can have an 80% fatality rate.
At the meeting, the agency received updates from five vaccine developers who have been working on candidate vaccines. WHO experts said that they will soon convene a working group to prioritize existing vaccine candidates, with an eye to seeing if clinical trials for any of the vaccines can be launched in real-time, particularly if the outbreak expands. So far, the virus has claimed nine lives, while there are 16 suspected cases in quarantine, and another 15 contacts are under observation. All cases have occurred in the province of Kie Ntem in the country’s western region.
“The critical next steps include getting full sequence information on the virus, which is being detected in Equatorial Guinea to use that for a number of different purposes,” said Philip R. Krause, chair of the WHO Covid Vaccines Research Expert Group, who led the meeting.
In parallel, WHO will “rapidly” convene a vaccine prioritization committee, Krause said, to “consider updated information from vaccine developers and to simplify, which really means extract relevant sections from the vaccine clinical protocol for potential use in Equatorial Guinea,” Krause said. He was referring to an already-approved WHO clinical trial protocol for Marburg vaccines, which would likely need adaptation to the context of the current outbreak.
“Assuming we’ll proceed with clinical studies, and of course this is pending agreement and support from local authorities in Equatorial Guinea, assuming that such a study was to be done, it would be important to convene the prioritization committee to look at these in the context of most up-to-date information – to make decisions about which of these should be included in such a study,” Krause said.
The meeting came only a day after WHO officially confirmed the first-ever outbreak of Marburg haemorrhagic fever in Equatorial Guinea. That confirmation came a week after the country’s Health Ministry notified WHO of a suspected case that had first been reported on 7 January in the country’s Kie Ntem province