US-based pharmaceutical company Merck has signed an exclusive worldwide license agreement with NewLink Genetics to develop the latter’s Ebola vaccine candidate.

Both firms will carry out research, as well as develop, manufacture, and distribute NewLink’s investigational Ebola vaccine candidate, rVSV-EBOV.

The vaccine candidate was originally developed by Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and is currently being assessed in Phase I clinical trials.

Merck will be provided the exclusive rights to the rVSV-EBOV vaccine candidate, as well as any follow-on products, under the terms of the agreement. It is under an exclusive licensing arrangement with a wholly owned subsidiary of NewLink Genetics.

The PHAC retains non-commercial rights pertaining to the vaccine candidate, under the license arrangements.

"Both firms will carry out research, as well as develop, manufacture, and distribute NewLink’s investigational Ebola vaccine candidate, rVSV-EBOV."

Merck Vaccines president Dr Julie Gerberding said: "Effective Ebola vaccines will be a critical component of comprehensive prevention and control measures for people at risk of Ebola virus infection and to stem future outbreaks globally.

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"Merck is committed to applying our vaccine expertise to address important global health needs and, through our collaboration with NewLink, we hope to advance the public health response to this urgent international health priority."

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to start a large randomised, controlled Phase III study in early 2015, to assess the safety and efficacy of the rVSV-EBOV vaccine.

Another investigational Ebola vaccine is planned to be co-developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

The rVSV vaccine platform is based on an attenuated strain of vesicular stomatitis virus, which has been modified to express an Ebola virus protein that plays a crucial role in establishing virus infection.

Image: Ebola virus virion. Photo: courtesy of CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith.