Michelle Gallaher, Ebola vaccine participant

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I’m in perfect health – so I signed up as a healthy volunteer to a clinical trial testing an Ebola vaccine.

Until recently I was the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian biotechnology industry association and a passionate advocate for medical research, biotech and clinical trials in Australia.

As a spokesperson promoting the value of clinical trials and for years working in companies and organisations undertaking trials, I had no idea of the volunteer experience.  So this year I decided to be a healthy volunteer to deepen my understanding, to personally make a commitment to Australian trials and because I was moved to help address the terrifying spread of Ebola in vulnerable populations.

I chose the Ebola study because the rapid development of vaccines for major infectious diseases is one of the greatest challenges for the global health industry. 

It typically takes 10-15 years to develop a new vaccine but the terrifyingly fast escalation of the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone and nearby African nations was forcing us to respond much more rapidly.  I also know from my experience that recruiting healthy patients to clinical trials like this is one of the slowest, and most difficult parts of this process. I knew every day and every volunteer would make a difference to improving the potential of finding a solution.

Vaccines make the most significant global impact of any class of medicine. The sheer number of lives saved because of the development and distribution of vaccines is remarkable.

I wanted to contribute to a clinical trial that would have a global benefit, particularly for populations that rely on countries like Australia to develop and deliver new medicines. 

The clinical trial experience has been so interesting to observe as a volunteer.  I understand much more about the process and feel it is an experience that more biotechnology and pharmaceutical executives should have.

The trial I’m in lasts almost a year. I received two doses of the vaccine and at regular visits my blood is taken and tested for antibodies active against the virus.

Volunteers are not injected with the Ebola virus – this is an important point to understand and one of the first questions my family asked when I told them I was planning to sign up.

Having a quality clinical trial system in our country is vital for not just our own health – developing nations and vulnerable populations that cannot afford adequate food and water, needless to say invest in medical research, need our support.

Giving Australians access to new medicines, jobs, education for health professionals and a pathway for medical research discoveries towards the market are the big benefits of having a thriving local clinical trial sector. 

Clinical trials are a way for Australians to contribute towards addressing global health challenges and I’m very proud to be a champion of the clinical trial industry as I am for our medical researchers and biotechnology industry.  We live in a very lucky country.