The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed what appears to be a vaccine for Ebola and taken it through phase one testing. At this point it would normally be turned over to a for profit pharmaceutical company to complete the testing and produce and market it but none have shown any interest.
The problem, instead, is the economics of drug development. Pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to pour research and development dollars into curing a disease that surfaces sporadically in low-income, African countries. They aren’t likely to see a large pay-off at the end — and could stand to lose money.
One exception is the Canadian Company Tekmira who received a large Department of Defense grant because the DOD feared a potential bio terrorism threat but the FDA recently halted the phase one testing.
But more recently the federal government has dealt TKM-Ebola a setback: the FDA halted the vaccine’s phase one trials at the start of July, requesting that Tekmira provide additional information about how the drug actually works, before the company begins giving trial subjects even larger dosages. That happens in Phase One trials to test how much the human body can handle.
So for the past month now, the TKM-Ebola trial has been on hold as Tekmira pulls together this information. “Our team is working expediently to respond to the FDA,” Tekmira chief executive Mark Murray said in a recent statement. “We are mindful of the need for this important therapeutic in situations such as the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa.”
I think the bio terrorism threat is a real one. Although Ebola is only spread through bodily fluids it would still be possible to infect people. Perhaps the paranoia over bringing 2 American victims of the disease will spur some action. We may also want to look at letting the NIH set up it’s own non profit pharmaceutical company and simply bypass the for profits who are more interested in creating profitable ED drugs than public health.