The world and the African continent in particular are currently experiencing the worst Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in modern history. With more than two thousand deaths estimated due to the disease and more anticipated in countries like Liberia, where the infection rate is growing exponentially, public and private institutions as well as pharmaceutical corporations have refocused time and resources into the development of vaccines to combat the deadly disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently ruled on the ethical considerations of using unproven interventions for Ebola and found that pending some conditions being met, such as “transparency about all aspects of care, informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community” (2), that it is ethical to use such treatments on patients with the Ebola virus diseases. More recently, the WHO discussed potential therapies for EVD and which should be prioritized as to accelerate the development of such drugs.
The WHO set out these four elements to be conducted is the fastest and safest manner possible with constant ethical oversight:
- “Appropriate protocols must be rapidly developed for informed consent and safe use.
- A mechanism for evaluating pre-clinical data should be put in place in order to recommend which interventions should be evaluated as a first priority.
- A platform must be established for transparent, real-time collection and sharing of data.
- A safety monitoring board needs to be established to evaluate the data from all interventions.” (3)
Whole blood therapies and convalescent blood serum use was considered a priority. The WHO also committed to work with all relevant stakeholders to accelerate the development of two vaccines – the first “based on vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV-EBO)” and the second on “chimpanzee adenovirus (ChAd-EBO)”, with a target date of November 2014 for availability if proven safe.
Large pharmaceutical companies in collaboration, and with funding from, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of National Institutes of Health (NIH) are developing EVD therapies like the chimpanzee adenovirus (ChAd3) based vaccine. Traditionally, funding for rare viral disease treatment in the form of therapeutics or vaccines has been scarce due to the low potential of return on investment and high cost of development. However, with the increasing number infected patients across multiple countries in Africa, and a highly accessible global environment through clustered fast means of transportation, the threat of the Ebola epidemic is far more difficult to contain than ever before. As a result, a mobilization of governments, institutions and corporations has taken place and are now working together and in parallel to tackle this disease and minimize its potential to infect populations in the future.