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

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office 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.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs