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EU, Drugmakers Commit $350 Million for Ebola Research

FILE - Participants of an exercise on transporting and handling contagious patients move a colleague during a simulation at a military airport outside of Rome, Sept. 24, 2014.
FILE - Participants of an exercise on transporting and handling contagious patients move a colleague during a simulation at a military airport outside of Rome, Sept. 24, 2014.

The European Union and drugmakers pledged on Thursday to invest 280 million euros ($350 million) in Ebola research, with the lion's share going to the testing and manufacturing of potential vaccines.

The funding will go toward efforts backed by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a public-private project jointly paid for by the European Commission and the pharmaceuticals industry.

Reuters reported on October 22 that an IMI investment of around 200 million euros was pending. Since then, further discussions have been held about the resources needed for various projects and the amount has been increased.

The final document setting out the plans commits the European Commission to giving as much as 140 million euros, with companies providing an equivalent amount in staff time, goods and services.

“The EU is determined to help find a solution to Ebola. We are putting our money where our mouth is and boosting EU research on Ebola with an additional 280 million euros,” said Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for research.

The move shows how momentum is building to get medical intervention, especially vaccines, to West Africa as soon as possible, to try to control the world's worst Ebola outbreak, which has killed nearly 5,000 people, according to official data. Many experts believe the true death toll is a lot higher.

The EU is also beginning its biggest single operation of transporting supplies to West Africa, with a Dutch ship sailing on Thursday from the Netherlands, loaded with ambulances, mobile hospitals, laboratories and other equipment provided by nine European countries.

Five priority projects

With a total budget of 3.3 billion euros for the period 2014 to 2024, Europe's IMI endeavor is the world's biggest public-private partnership in life sciences.

It began in 2008 and now has 46 ongoing projects, some of which are focused on specific health issues such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer and obesity. Others involve work on broader challenges in drug development.

In the case of Ebola, five urgent projects have been identified involving the three stages of vaccine clinical trials; vaccine manufacturing; vaccine transport and storage; regimens for vaccination deployment; and rapid diagnostic tests.

The aim is to head off some of the technical obstacles that public health officials, governments and drugmakers face as they try to develop the world's first Ebola vaccines in record time.

The challenges include finding enough vaccine manufacturing and filling capacity, getting accelerated clinical trial results, winning rapid regulatory approvals and building a supply chain in Africa for products that must be stored at ultra-low temperatures.

For diagnostics, the goal is to develop a simple test for Ebola infection that can generate results within three hours and preferably in less than 30 minutes.

Two leading vaccine candidates from GlaxoSmithKline and NewLink Genetics are already in human safety trials. Another five should begin testing in the first quarter of next year. One from Johnson & Johnson will start trials in January.

The three leading companies hope to make millions of doses over the course of 2015.