Commission activities in the area of Ebola

An emergency response – supporting the most advanced vaccine and treatment candidates

Ebola virus disease is a highly contagious and often fatal illness in humans. The 2014-16 outbreak in West Africa was the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976, as it rapidly spread across borders and between countries. This virus, which spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission, has an average fatality rate of around 50%.

To address the need for new vaccine and diagnostic treatments, the EU has been boosting its investment in Ebola research since the 2014 outbreak, aiming to achieve life-changing results. For instance, the EU has funded Ebola vaccine development with over €160 million, the development of Ebola treatments has received over €7m, and diagnostic tests have also received over €7m.

2018 outbreak

On 8 May 2018, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared an outbreak of Ebola. According to the WHO, this is the ninth outbreak of Ebola over the last four decades in the country. The DRC Ministry of Health is currently leading the response in affected health zones with the support of WHO as well as other global partners. Priorities include the strengthening of surveillance, community engagement, safe and dignified burials, response coordination and vaccination. 

It is imperative that the needs for research as part of the response are examined, and the European Commission is working with the WHO and other international partners to establish where research can have the most impact.

2014 outbreak

On 8 August 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an 'extraordinary event and a public health risk to other States'.

In response to this, in September 2014, the European Commission quickly mobilised €24.4 million from its research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, and work on the funded projects began already as early as October 2014.

Joining forces with industry

During the 2014-16 outbreak €215 million in research funding for Ebola and related viruses were mobilised by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a partnership between the European Commission and the pharmaceutical industry in Europe.

Since 2014, there has been ongoing development of vaccine candidates for Ebola through the IMI Ebola+ programme. As a result of funding from the EU and other international partners, a vaccine (rVSVΔG-ZEBOV-GP) now exists that demonstrated some effectiveness in humans during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This vaccine is now being deployed in DRC to gather more evidence of its effectiveness, and to help combat the current outbreak.

A second vaccine (Ad26.ZEBOV/MVA) is currently being assessed by the WHO for approval for use in the current outbreak, and with the support of EU funding 1.6 million doses have already been produced and stockpiled. This vaccine has the advantage that it can be easily deployed without the need for ultra-cold storage.

Partnership with Africa

The European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) is a collaborative effort between European and Sub-Saharan African countries to develop and test promising new medical interventions for a range of poverty-related diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis.

EDCTP has funded 2 recently launched clinical research and response networks, the African coalition for Epidemic Research, Response and Training (ALERRT), and the Pan-African Network For Rapid Research, Response, Relief and Preparedness for Infectious Disease Epidemics (PANDORA-IT-NET). Together, these projects received €20 million in EU funding.

Both groups are mobilised in the current Ebola outbreak, building up local capacity (particularly in Congo Brazzaville) and evaluating priorities for urgent Ebola research to be implemented (potentially treatment trials, validation of diagnostics, and basic and social research).

A coordinated global action

Diseases like Ebola do not respect borders, and outbreaks like this must be met with a unified, global response. For this reason, the European Commission works together with many stakeholders in research and innovation in health, such as the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The European Commission, together with funding organisations from all around the world, has established the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R). The goal of GloPID-R is to mount an effective international research response within 48 hours of an outbreak, and the funders that make up this network have been working hard to coordinate their efforts on Ebola.