Ebola is one of the world's deadliest diseases, with up to 90% of cases resulting in death, although in the current outbreak the rate is about 55%. The outbreak continues to wreck havoc in West Africa, especially Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, each dealing with hundreds of cases every day. According to WHO reports, the collective death toll has now risen to 2,615 with 1,427 deaths as on August 22, 2014.
Until recently, two pharmaceutical companies were working on R&D and possible vaccine solution for Ebola. In July 2010, Tekmira, Canadian pharmaceutical company, was awarded a contract worth up to $140 million with the U.S. government’s Transformational Medical Technologies (TMT) program to advance TKM-Ebola, an RNAi therapeutic, to treat Ebola virus infection. Unfortunately, after facing a number of hiccups, TMK-Ebola has been put on hold since July 2014.
However, the one doing the media rounds is ZMapp, a biomedical drug created by California-based pharmaceutical company, Mapp Biopharmaceuticals. This drug was shown to result in 100% cure when administered over monkeys during trial stages. It has not yet been tested in humans for safety or effectiveness. However, Kent Brantly, a 33-year-old doctor and 59-year-old aid worker, Nancy Writebol were two of the early patients of the drug. Both became infected during their stay in Central Africa to combat the deadly virus.
With the rising death toll in Central and West Africa, academic researchers, biotechnology specialists, and pharmaceutical leaders in Boston and elsewhere are offering tantalizing evidence that vaccines against Ebola and other killer diseases can be made faster and cheaper than previously believed.
In a study accepted for publication in the journal, ‘Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics’, a Boston research consortium, called VaxCelerate, details how it produced a vaccine ready for animal testing against lassa fever, a hemorrhagic disease similar to Ebola, for less than $1 million and in four months.
VaxCelerate, based within Massachusetts General’s vaccine center, is part of a broader push by the US government to improve — even transform — vaccine development to better respond to emerging infectious diseases. The US Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense are working with several Boston-area companies and scientists on vaccine initiatives. Also under development are therapies that could help people who have contracted Ebola or who are likely to come into contact with it.
For our relevant reports on Ebola, visit the links cited below.