Canada Donates Experimental Ebola Drug in Wake of WHO Decision to Use Untested Treatments

Davy James, Associate Editor
Published Online: Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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World Health Organization declaration assures drug manufacturers that there will be a market for Ebola medications.

The Government of Canada announced yesterday that it will donate up to 1000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine to the World Health Organization (WHO) to aid in halting the spread of the virus in West Africa.

The donation follows a statement issued on Tuesday by WHO’s ethical review panel that noted a moral obligation to use experimental treatments on patients, given the severe nature of the current outbreak. WHO’s latest figures place the death toll at more than 1000, with more than 1800 confirmed and suspected cases.

“Our government is committed to doing everything we can to support our international partners, including providing staff to assist with the outbreak response, funding and access to our experimental vaccine,” said Canadian Minister of Health Rona Ambrose in a press release. “Today, on a call with Dr. Chan, Director General of the WHO, I was pleased to offer the experimental vaccine developed by Canadian researchers as a global resource to help fight this outbreak.”

The vaccine, called VSV-EBOV, has shown promise in animal testing but has yet to be used in humans. Canada licensed the rights to American firm BioProtection Systems Corp for further development of the drug for use in humans.

The Canadian shipment follows the announcement that Liberia will receive the experimental drug, ZMapp, to treat stricken aid workers in the Ebola ravaged nation. The supply of ZMapp, which was developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc, has now been exhausted, the company said yesterday.

The decision by the WHO ethical panel provides assurance to drug manufacturers that there will be a market for their vaccine if they increase production efforts on Ebola treatments. Two companies that are receiving funding from the US Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency also have promising Ebola treatment candidates in early development.

A drug by BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, called BCX4430, has exhibited the potential to treat a broad spectrum of activity in multiple viruses with a favorable preliminary safety profile. The drug has shown efficacy in a small study of nonhuman primates, but has yet to be evaluated in humans.

A treatment from Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp, called TKM-Ebola, had an FDA phase I clinical hold changed to a partial hold on August 7, 2014, which will allow for testing in humans.
The decision to use these experimental treatments is borne out of desperation to stop the current outbreak from further damaging a region already in dire need of outside assistance, according to African officals.

“We can’t say for certain that these drugs are making people better, or what the medium to long-term complications might be — nevertheless we do need them,” Clement Adebamowo, MD, ScD, chairman of the National Health Research Ethics Committee of Nigeria, told the Christian Science Monitor. “But we also need to make sure people understand what they are taking. A low level of Western education in a community does not mean that individuals are unable to make rational decisions on the basis of information presented to them, but it means researchers have a very high level of responsibility to provide information in a way people can understand.”

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