Ebola emergency turns spotlight on experimental drugs

Thu Aug 7, 2014 12:00am EDT
 
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By Julie Steenhuysen and Sharon Begley

CHICAGO/NEW YORK Aug 7 (Reuters) - With hundreds of patients in Africa suffering the devastating effects of Ebola, health experts are scrambling to determine which drugs might offer the best experimental treatment, and researchers are being pressed by government officials to speed up their work.

Three treatments have shown especially promising results in monkeys, the researchers said. One, produced by tiny California biotech Mapp Biopharmaceutical, gained international prominence this week when it was given to two U.S. aid workers who contracted Ebola in West Africa and have since shown signs of improvement.

Others are from Vancouver-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals and privately-held Profectus BioSciences, of Tarrytown, NY.

On Wednesday the World Health Organization said it would discuss next week the ethics of using Ebola drugs that have never been cleared for human use, wary of a long history of medicines being tested on people who were never properly informed of the risks. In the countries hardest hit by Ebola, suspicion of foreign medical workers is already widespread.

But the health minister of Nigeria, Onyenbuchi Chukwu, told reporters this week that he had asked U.S. health officials about access to experimental Ebola therapies. U.S. drugmakers are fielding questions from government officials about their ability to supply treatments in sufficient quantities should the request come.

"For years we've told the government you need to invest a little bit of money in this," said Profectus chief scientific officer John Eldridge. "And now it's, 'Oh my God, how fast can you make this?'"

Officials at Mapp and Tekmira would not comment on efforts to make their treatments available in response to the outbreak.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said he lacks enough information to green-light Mapp's drug to treat the deadly Ebola virus and that the initial response should focus on public health measures to contain the outbreak.   Continued...