University of Antwerp conducts a site feasibility visit in DR Congo

Under the mentorship of Prof. Van Damme as Principal Investigator (PI) and head of the Centre for Evaluation and Vaccination, and Prof. Van geertruyden, Co- PI and head of Global Health Institute, an Ebola vaccination trial with the Janssen® Ebola vaccine will be run in collaboration with Université de Kinshasa (UNIKIN). This tripartite cooperation fits into a bigger consortium of the EBOVAC3 project, that is co-financed by the European Union (“EBOVAC3 grant”, EU-IMI), under the leadership of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) recently joined the consortium to assist Janssen vaccines, as well as the University of Antwerp, to conduct the respective trial as planned.

The UNIKIN team is spearheaded by four former PhD students of the University of Antwerp: Prof. Muhindo (investigator of the vaccine trial), Prof. Mitashi and Prof. Matangila (both co-investigator), and  Dr. Maketa who will be the local coordinator in charge on site. The trial site will be located in the Boende Health Zone, DR Congo, a remote area that already experienced an Ebola outbreak in 2014. During this trial over 700 health care providers, local Red Cross staff and community relay persons will be recruited. This targeted group of people are considered to be the first to have professional contact with Ebola patients during a potential future outbreak. Next to individual protection, immunization may give a “heard protection” and prevent further spread of Ebola amongst de communities.

At the beginning of April 2019, a delegation of the Global Health Institute visited DR Congo. The prime goal of the visit was to meet with the different stakeholders in UNIKIN and conduct a site feasibility study of the trial site. Moreover, the trial can only be successful after an extensive community mobilization, distribution of information, engagement and consent of local leaders; elements that were addressed during this exploratory mission. Next to that, the infrastructural, organizational and human capacity of the trial site were checked.

Mid May 2019, the three local PIs of UNIKIN came to Belgium to attend the masterclass and celebrations of the honorary degree of Prof. Muyembe, a world authority in the fight against Ebola, and key advisor in the EBOVAC3 project. Both UAntwerpen and UNIKIN teams participated to the annual EBOVAC3 consortium meeting in Brussels, Belgium (May 21-22, 2019). Now, all is geared up for the MOC-run planned at the end of July 2019, in which all operational and organizational implications of the trial will be simulated. The actual trial is expected to start enrolment in August 2019.