The Canadian government is in talks with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United States about possibly providing its Ebola vaccine for use in Africa, a senior Canadian health official said on Tuesday.
The US is also working on a vaccine and the WHO and governments involved will collectively decide whether to use either one in Africa, Dr Greg Taylor, deputy chief public health officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada told Reuters.
Canada owns a small quantity of the vaccine and would need four to six months to make a large quantity, he said. The government's vaccine is separate from the treatment being developed by Canada's Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp.
"We see this as a global resource, something we need to put on the global table to say... how can we make best use of this asset? "We're looking to do that as fast as we can," Taylor said, speaking from Ottawa.
The Ebola outbreak is the world's largest and deadliest. So far, 1,013 people have died, the vast majority in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The Canadian vaccine, which the agency licensed for commercialization to US firm BioProtection Systems, a unit of Newlink Genetics, has proven effective in animals but has never been tested in humans, Taylor said. Still, deciding whether to use an experimental drug on humans is "very difficult," he said. "You really don't know how safe it is, you don't know what the side effects are going to be. But in this extraordinary circumstance in Africa right now, we're trying to do everything we can to assist."
The WHO backed use of experimental Ebola drugs in West Africa on Tuesday, saying the special circumstances created by the epidemic made it ethical to give untested drugs to infected patients.
Canada currently has less than 1,500 animal doses of the vaccine. The first doses in Africa would likely be available to health care workers, with others held back for toxicology tests and clinical trials, Taylor said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada was also involved in the development of ZMapp, an experimental Ebola treatment licensed by US firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical that has been used to treat two infected American aid workers. Liberia said on Tuesday it will get Mapp's drug to treat two doctors in the West African state.