As Ebola virus rages, funding is the main constraint for new treatments, scientist says

By Zachary Brennan contact

- Last updated on GMT

Since March, more than 1600 people have been infected with the Ebola virus and 672 have died in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea
Since March, more than 1600 people have been infected with the Ebola virus and 672 have died in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea

Related tags: Microbiology, Infection

The worst Ebola virus outbreak in history continues to spread in West Africa as biopharma companies are hampered by funding issues in trying to bring treatments and vaccines to human trials, a scientist says.

Thomas Geisbert -- professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, which has one of the few biosafety level (BSL)-4 containment laboratories to study the Ebola virus -- told BioPharma-Reporter.com: “On the development of a vaccine to combat we have developed a number of vaccines that can completely protect lab animals including nonhuman primates against Ebola.  

“The challenge is really more in terms of the small biotech companies that are developing these vaccines obtaining the funding needed to produce cGMP vaccines and do Phase I trials​.” 

Since March, more than 1600 people have been infected with the Ebola virus and 672 have died in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, according to AFP​. 

The recent spate of new cases in Guinea after weeks of low viral activity “demonstrates that undetected chains of transmission existed in the community​,” according to the World Health Organization. “This phenomenon is retrogressive to the control of the EVD outbreak; and calls for stepping up outbreak containment measures, especially effective contact tracing​.” 

But the virus is not expected to be transmitted across the Atlantic. Deputy director of CDC's National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases, Stephan Monroe, said Monday​: "I want to underscore that Ebola poses little risk to the US general population​."

Treatment Options​ 

Doctors don’t have any direct treatment options for patients infected with the virus, or to protect patients who have yet to be infected, though they have a number of ways to treat symptoms, which include fever, headache and diarrhea. 

Geisbert predicts that the first treatment for the virus is probably “a few years [away] at the earliest and maybe more than 5 or so. The main constraint is the funds...  I think we really don’t know whether the virus will continue to spread throughout West Africa or not but I think the odds of it making it to say Europe or North America and causing any major issue is very, very low​.” 

According to Bloomberg News​, an early phase safety trial could begin in the first half of 2015 of an antibody cocktail being developed by the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada, the US Army and two drug companies -- Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. of San Diego and Toronto-based Defyrus Inc. 

In 2012, those same researchers found that a cocktail of three antibodies first administered 24 hours or more after exposure to the Ebola virus in monkeys infected were cured, according to Nature​. 

The treatment is made up of antibodies isolated from mice vaccinated with fragments of the virus, which target and neutralize a glycoprotein on the surface of the virus that allows it to enter and infect cells.  

The WHO’s Regional Director for the Africa Region, Luis Sambo, recently underscored the seriousness of the outbreak while reiterating that it can be contained using known infection prevention and control measures. 

Related topics: Ebola outbreak

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