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Challenges remain in experimental Ebola drug usage


08-13-2014 11:05 BJT

Full coverage: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

A Spanish priest who is thought to have been treated with an experimental anti-Ebola drug has died in hospital. The death of the 75-year-old Miguel Pajares comes shortly after it was announced that two Liberian doctors will be given the serum called ZMapp. 

The World Health Organization says that 1,848 people have been infected, and over 1,000 people have died from what has become the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. Daniel Ryntjes reports from Washington. 

This US firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical has spent a decade working with scientists including the Scripps Research Institute to develop a drug treatment for Ebola, and they are due to conduct a clinical trial on humans next year.

"That’s still going to go forward, and that’s the normal process. But the Ebola virus broke out now before the human clinical trial happened. So what do you do? Do you use this experimental therapy to try to save a life, or do you wait? And there were a number of ethical and logistical decisions that had to be made by a whole range of government regulatory bodies, the FDA, the CDC, the WHO and the foreign ministries of health." Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire, from the Scripps Research Institute, Said.

Two Americans who were working on health projects in Liberia gave their consent for the experimental treatment and appear to have responded well.

"Having these two humans that volunteered to receive this experimental therapy is interesting, and we’re certainly very keen in understanding their condition and how that has helped them. But we have to go through all the regular process to get this drug approved." Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire, from the Scripps Research Institute, Said.

Liberia is now receiving doses of the serum to treat two doctors there.

Spain also received a dose and reportedly treated the 75-year-old priest Miguel Pajares, who has now died from the illness.

US regulators have also allowed a treatment called TKM-Ebola, made by company called Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, to be tested on infected patients.

There has been a public debate globally about why the first doses of the ZMapp drug were given to Westerners before Africans.

Medical ethicists here say that providing the first untested drugs to African patients would have involved risks to public perceptions as well.

Medical experts emphasize that the underlying challenges for now are in scaling up conventional public health treatments and prevention efforts at a time when there remain significant logistical, practical and legal constraints to the increased use of experimental drugs.

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