News / Health

Scant Funds, Rare Outbreaks Leave Ebola Drug Pipeline Slim

A doctor works in a laboratory on collected samples of the Ebola virus at the Center for Disease Control in Entebbe, about 37 km southwest of Uganda's capital Kampala, Aug. 2, 2012.
A doctor works in a laboratory on collected samples of the Ebola virus at the Center for Disease Control in Entebbe, about 37 km southwest of Uganda's capital Kampala, Aug. 2, 2012.
Reuters
Almost 40 years after the Ebola virus was identified in humans by scientists in a microbiology laboratory in Belgium, pharmaceutical researchers have yet to develop an effective drug or vaccine to fight it.

Part of the problem is that the deadly virus is rare and its victims are often poor people living in rural areas of Africa without well-functioning health systems. But there is also little incentive for major pharmaceutical companies to invest in medical solutions when there is little chance of a return.

The number of doses sold is likely to be small and many health officials believe the virus and its death toll could be better controlled with good basic hygiene and the eradication of dangerous bushmeat consumption. Yet there is a drug development pipeline, of sorts, out there - mainly funded by the U.S. government which fears such deadly viruses might one day be developed into bioweapons.

"We can do basic research quite cheaply, but when you move from that to trying to develop drugs and vaccines, you get into the need for clinical trials and they are very costly - which is where you would normally start to engage with Big Pharma," said Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at Britain's University of Nottingham. "And clearly they are not going to invest unless there is likely to be some sort of decent return."

Discovered in 1976 after an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then
This colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) obtained March 24, 2014 from the Centers for Disease Control(CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, reveals some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. (AFP PHOTO / CDC / Cynthia Gold)This colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) obtained March 24, 2014 from the Centers for Disease Control(CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, reveals some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. (AFP PHOTO / CDC / Cynthia Gold)
x
This colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) obtained March 24, 2014 from the Centers for Disease Control(CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, reveals some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. (AFP PHOTO / CDC / Cynthia Gold)
This colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) obtained March 24, 2014 from the Centers for Disease Control(CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, reveals some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. (AFP PHOTO / CDC / Cynthia Gold)
Zaire, Ebola causes a severe hemorrhagic fever where victims suffer vomiting, diarrhea and both internal and external bleeding.

In an outbreak in Guinea in West Africa, about 86 suspected cases have been reported, with 62 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Investigations are going on into reported cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone along the border with Guinea.

Bioweapon Fears

"Ebola virus is one of the deadliest killers known," said Ben Neuman, a virologist at Britain's University of Reading. "[It] is one of the things that keeps public health officials up at night. If this virus spread between people more easily, it would probably be more deadly than the black plague. Fortunately, up to this point, it has not."

So while for drugmakers there is little commercial future in Ebola, some research groups in the United States are working in conjunction with the U.S. government to find treatments.

In March, the University of Texas and three other organizations got $26 million in funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to find a cure for Ebola and another deadly virus Marburg in case they are ever used for bioterrorism in the United States.

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, which teamed up with the U.S. Department of Defense on an injectable drug treatment for Ebola, started an initial Phase I trial in healthy volunteers in January.

Several small biotech companies and U.S. university departments are also developing potential vaccines, but this work has yet to advance from animal studies into clinical trials in humans - so any use in people now would be very risky.

U.S.-based Inovio and privately held Vaxart are among those with experimental vaccines in animal testing, while GlaxoSmithKline last year acquired Swiss vaccine firm Okairos with an early-stage Ebola product.

"There are a few experimental vaccines, but the question is whether anybody would take on the costs of manufacture based on the likely number of doses they would eventually sell," said Ian Jones, a professor of virology at Reading University. "The numbers of people infected are low, and at the end of the day somebody has to fund the production of a drug or vaccine. As things stand that is unlikely."

Drug Trials

The immense difficulty and high cost of conducting human clinical trials for a potential drug or vaccine are prohibitive, experts point out, since Ebola cases are generally far-flung, rare and unpredictable.

"For a start there are simply not enough patients and you wouldn't know when the next outbreak was going to happen," said Jones. "Even then you couldn't guarantee there would be enough people to run a trial. Which means you would have to go from the best evidence in animal models."

Some scientists say the current outbreak in Guinea could be an opportunity to do just that - offering a chance to push the field forward and test potential vaccines or drugs.

Thomas Geisbert at the University of Texas Medical Branch is working on a vaccine known as vesicular stomatitis virus-based Ebola vaccine, or VSV, which he said had shown 100 percent efficacy in tests on animals.

The shot, which has not gone through clinical trials in humans, could, he said, be issued on "compassionate grounds" to people in Guinea at risk in the current Ebola outbreak.

"You have to reach a balance between advancing science, medical ethics and saving lives," he told Reuters. "It's not easy, but how many people faced with the prospect of near certain death would opt to take their  chances with the virus?"

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Hassan Koroma from: Sierria Leone
March 28, 2014 7:35 PM
Thanks to the texas university for the research for the curement of the ebola virus. We're now on prayers for God not to bring that disaster in our country.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More