WHO welcomes industry response to Ebola crisis but calls for new drugs

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Biosafety level 4 required for safe handling of Ebola virus samples
Biosafety level 4 required for safe handling of Ebola virus samples
The Pharma industry has responded to the Ebola crisis in West Africa with developmental vaccines and aid donations, but drugmakers still need to be incentivised to develop new therapies according to the WHO.

To date there have been 5,335 confirmed cases of Ebola and 2,622 deaths​ from the disease in countries across West Africa since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak in March.

The disease has spread rapidly since being detected in Guinea with cases now reported in Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone and – according to analysis in New England Journal of Medicine​ – the number of infections is likely to grow to 20,000 in weeks unless control measures improve.

These control methods include vaccines according to WHO medicines coordinator, Nicola Magrini, who told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that: “ A vaccine being developed by GSK is already in safety trials and, optimistically, it could enter Phase IIb efficacy studies in November​.”

Magrini explained that if these vaccines and other developmental treatments​ do enter Phase IIb studies healthcare workers battling the Ebola outbreak are likely to be the first recipients.

Current treatment options

Until effective drugs are widely available, patients infected with Ebola are treated on an ad hoc basis according to Magrini, who said: “There is not a recommended treatment course,”​ but usually helping people replace the 5 to 10 litres of fluid they can lose each day is part of the strategy.

Last month Baxter told us that it had donated IV fluid to aid efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone​.

This type of donation was acknowledged by Magrini, who said: “Collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and agencies fighting Ebola has been full. If a hospital asks for antivirals firms provide them​.”

Other treatment approaches include using harvested blood plasma from Ebola survivors to confer immunity against infection on other people Magrini said, explaining that collecting such material involves screening technologies and careful analysis to ensure it is virus free.

Ultimately, the impact such donations have depends on how they can be deployed and the healthcare infrastructure of the country in question according to Magrini, who said survival rates vary from 10-20% in Liberia to 80% or more in other countries hit be the epidemic.

Pharmaceutical responsibility

Magrini rejected the idea the anticipated surge in Ebola cases will result in shortages of products like IVs and antibiotics used to treat infected patients, again stressing that the level of healthcare provision available is the key factor in determining survival rate.

He also suggested that: “We need to find a way to incentivise pharmaceutical industry researchers to target member of the Filoviridae virus family​” adding that while “it is no-one’s fault that only a few such products are being developed…we need to find ways of treating this disease​.”

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