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Health official: Work on Ebola vaccine 'highly complex' and will 'take time

MONROVIA, LIBERIA - OCTOBER 10: Chief doctor J. Soka Moses prepares to enter the Ebola ward at JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. After a doctor and close friend at the hospital contracted the virus, Soka stopped accepting patients. The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Obama administration health officials are indicating that a vaccine for Ebola is still many months and possibly years away, as the handful of drugs that show some promise are no where close to being mass produced and sold to consumers.

Top officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services will testify before a House panel Thursday on efforts to produce an Ebola vaccine. While neither estimated when one might be ready in their prepared testimony, both said possible vaccines are still at the early stage of development.

A doctor prepares to enter the Ebola ward at JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. U.S. health officials will testify Thursday that an Ebola vaccine is still many months and possibly years to develop. The Washington Post/Getty Images

Luciana Borio is an assistant commissioner for counterterrorism policy at the FDA, and her prepared remarks say her agency is prepared to move as quickly as possible on clinical trials as soon as possible. But she also indicated that commercial production is still a ways off.

"While FDA is making every effort to encourage development, speed review, and use flexible approaches to authorize potential medical products to address Ebola, we cannot lose sight of the scientific fact that investigational vaccines and treatments for Ebola are in the earliest stages of development," she said.

She said today, data on the effectiveness of experimental drugs on humans is either "limited or lacking," and said in many cases, there is not enough product to run tests.

"Currently, there are only small amounts of some experimental products that have been manufactured for testings," she said. "Developing the medical products to help bring this Ebola epidemic under control is highly complex and will, unfortunately, take time."

Robin Robinson, director of biomedical research at HHS, said that office supports research into drugs and tries to move promising products into the study and manufacturing phases as quickly as possible.

"[S]everal promising Ebola vaccine and therapeutic candidates have matured enough… to transition them rapidly from early development into advanced development," he said in his prepared remarks. But he said several hurdles still remain.

For example, he said the "ZMapp monoclonal antibody therapeutic" could soon be manufactured in doses for clinical safety and efficacy studies, but he said "it cannot be produced on commercial scale in large quantities at this point."

A few vaccines are also being looked at, but he said the challenge with them is producing enough for clinical studies.

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