DUTCH FIRM TO DEVELOP EBOLA VACCINE WITH US 



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Last Updated

03 Nov 2002

Source: Reuters, May 16, 2002.

Dutch Firm to Develop Ebola Vaccine with U.S.

By Melanie Cheary

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The U.S. government joined forces with a tiny Dutch biotechnology company on Thursday to develop a vaccine against Ebola, the virus that bleeds people to death and which could be a powerful weapon in bioterrorism.

Crucell NV said on Thursday it would develop the vaccine together with the U.S. government's major medical research body, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and could test it on humans within two years and sell it by 2008.

The Ebola virus causes Ebola fever, one of the deadliest diseases known to man and for which there is no cure. Victims' internal organs literally disintegrate and they die rapidly, bleeding from every orifice. Ebola spreads like wildfire.

Recent outbreaks of the jungle fever have occurred in Africa, resulting in hundreds of deaths. A major outbreak in a heavily populated area has so far not occurred.

But the September 11 attacks in the United States last year and the anthrax attacks in October have raised the specter of deadly viruses like Ebola and smallpox being unleashed purposefully in vast quantities as weapons of terror.

"When it comes to viruses, we are dealing with a totally new ballgame now. Before September 11 the market for the Ebola vaccine was extremely small. This has now changed," Ton Logtenberg, chief scientific officer at Crucell, told Reuters.

"The virus has not spread but September 11 has made it a likely scenario for bioterrorism," he added.

Analysts said the deal boosted Crucell's profile but with marketing so far off it was hard to determine the financial benefit to Crucell. The company's shares gained six percent to 5.40 euros, giving it a market value of 191 million euros.

"We believe this deal offers further endorsement of the quality of Crucell's technology platforms, although there is no near-term change to our financial forecasts and it is difficult to assess the commercial viability of such a vaccine," UBS Warburg analysts said in a research note.

LARGE MARKET

Crucell said that under the partnership's terms it had the option to acquire the exclusive right to sell the vaccine once it is made. Logtenberg declined to put a value on potential sales but said Crucell would target travelers, government officials, military personnel and people living in Ebola endemic areas.

The Ebola vaccine will be developed using Crucell's technology and Ebola genes already developed by the NIH's vaccine research center. An experimental vaccine made by the research center succeeded in preventing Ebola in monkeys.

The Dutch firm said that while it was not privy to the activities of other producers, it was certain that it and the NIH would be the first to produce an Ebola vaccine for humans.

"The NIH approached us because they were aware of our activities. The vaccine's development is at a stage that the NIH wants to push forward now," Logtenberg said. "It will take about five or six years to have the vaccine available."

After the unprecedented September 11 attacks on New York and Washington last year, the United States has sought to protect itself against any form of terrorism. Earlier this year U.S. President George Bush urged that Congress approve $5.9 billion be spent next year to combat bioterrorism. (additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London)