Texas Researcher Might Have Some Treatments for Ebola, Needs Money

Categories: Drugs

14440817981_eb676a8850_m.jpg
NIAID
The yellow part is the normal cell, and the blue lines are the Ebola virus.
Ever since a doctor from Fort Worth became one of two Americans recently infected with the Ebola virus on a mercy trip in Liberia, the Western public has developed a renewed interest in the rare disease, often described as incurable.

For researchers like University of Texas virologist Dr. Thomas Geisbert, this means they're more likely to finally get all that money they need to continue studying Ebola, which might just be a few human tests and millions of dollars away from a cure, after all. "We have developed treatments that can completely protect monkeys against Ebola if we give it different times after exposure," Geisbert says.

The next step for Geisbert would be to test those treatments on healthy humans. To do that, he just needs millions of dollars. Big pharmaceutical companies seem like obvious candidates to put up that money. It's "something that big pharmaceutical companies could do," Geisbert says, except that they won't. "I've talked to representatives of those companies, at different meetings and things, and pretty much was told it's just not a moneymaker."

Geisbert's career as an Ebola researcher began when he was an intern at a U.S. Army medical research lab in the late '80s. He later was featured as a character in Richard Preston's 1995 non-fiction thriller The Hot Zone. (Geisbert helps discover a new strain of Ebola with another researcher, but they accidentally expose themselves to it, and decide to test their blood for the infection regularly and not tell anyone).

In 2010, Geisbert moved a little closer to his ranch in Abilene when he began working at the University of Texas' Biosafety Level 4 lab in Galveston, one of just 15 in the nation qualified to study pathogens as infectious as Ebola.

In March, before West Africa experienced the massive outbreak, Geisbert was one of a large group of scientists from 15 institutions who received a 5-year, $28 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the antibody cocktails that could cure Ebola.

But those treatments showing promise in primates won't get FDA approval until they're tested on healthy humans next, Phase I of the clinical trial process. That's the thing that will cost all the millions more. "Everybody's been in the same boat, as far as there's kind of been that little hang-up with the human trials," Geisbert says.

Dr. Kent Brantly, the doctor from Fort Worth who got sick, received one of those experimental treatments when he was still in Africa. A small drug company called Mapp Biopharmaceuticals sent a dose of a serum called ZMapp over for the Americans who got infected, warning that it had only been tested on animals. It's too early to say if it worked.

Mapp is one of a handful of small biotech that is now partnering with the researchers under the big NIH grant. Though the interest in rare diseases is there with small companies like Mapp, the big money isn't.

"It really, in my opinion, is going to take government support or some kind of a philanthropist, like the Gates foundation or something, to come in and support this," Geisbert says. Either that, or enough panicked Americans to create some financial incentive for Big Pharma.


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52 comments
ivyhall
ivyhall

And all this time I thought that the esteemed Ivy League "ex-perts", UN and WHO were so dismissive of the so called "sub standard" US healthcare system .  I really don't see any state of the art treatments or research going on in any other industrialized western or eastern/a\Asian country with a more socialized health care model. Gee what a shock!!!

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Maybe if they hire some of Li'l Rickys friends as "directors", may be they can get money from Li'l Rickys' tech slush fund.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

The disease is about as rare as diseases get, is fairly easily prevented without drugs of any kind. Sink the millions into research on cancer or diabetes or any other wide-spread disease.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

From what I have read, pricipally NY times articles, the cure rates are not terribly high and production is based on growing infected tobacco. Even ramped up, dosages will initially be in the hundreds.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Call Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. If no luck, Kickstarter.

I would think human trials in these very poor plagued countries would be much less expensive. Also, will not be trials like cancer drugs where it takes months to determine efficacy.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Hundreds are dying in Africa of Ebola every year.  Two white people catch it, and suddenly there is a cure.  I really do think it is coincidence, but I have no argument to give for my belief when someone calls it a conspiracy.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Actually a German firm is making essential technology available to the ZMap researchers.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Up to now, rare. But as human population explodes in Africa, Ebola will too. People will encroach on more animal habitat and eat more animals.

the claims of "no market" seem absurd, given African population of 1.1 billion. And maybe 500 million in sub saharan/jungle areas at risk.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@primi_timpano And when word gets out that big pharmacy is rushing untried, experimental drugs to poor third-world countries, what do you suppose will be the blowback?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@everlastingphelps There is no "cure," phelps, no miracle drug. 

There is a one-of-a-kind experimental drug, never tested on humans, that under even the most generous and lenient government regulations would face years of trials before a small human teast might be allowed. 

There is no conspiracy, here.

ivyhall
ivyhall

@primi_timpano Germany was not the primary destination for the infected, though, was it?  Breakthrough pharmaceutical or advanced medical research from Germany is rare compared to the US.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Ebola could be effectively wiped out with no medicinal cure/prevention, but that would rely on behavioral changes.

Spend the money elsewhere.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bmarvel @everlastingphelps Whatever you do, don't read the part where I said I thought it was coincidence.  God knows you don't want to treat me like a human being, just a strawman.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ivyhall @everlastingphelps Africans, I imagine, care as much about Africans as we care about Americans. What they do not have, for the most part, is a system of laws and institutions that cares.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@TheRuddSki Any competent team of scientists with enough money and time can produce an effective vaccine, RuddSki. Behavioral changes are the hardest to make. How many people drink and drive? Smoke? Over eat? How many refuse to be vaccinated?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

You have a plan to teach behavioral changes to people barely subsisting in horrific conditions, and full of ancient fears of outsiders.

Zut alors, Daddy Warbucks, you are a genius. Please provide details, though.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@everlastingphelps @bmarvel How then, phelps,. would you explain the "coincidence" that 'Hundreds are dying in Africa of Ebola every year"while "Two white people catch it, and suddenly there is a cure?" 

This is exactly the language of those who insist that some kind of conspiracy is involved.

My point remains. It is not a "cure." It is not even a coincidence. It is an act of desperation by the medical community to save one of their own. We will see whether it works or not. Can you imagine the outcry had they tried this extremely risky procedure on an African with ebola?

ivyhall
ivyhall

@bmarvel @ivyhall @everlastingphelps Well for sure they rebuffed colonialism elements of which provided an infrastructure for organized nationbuilding.  If a system of laws and infrastructure to benefit the population is not established--whose fault is it exactly?

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I don't see your point. You first asserted that it is the US with a monopoly on state of the art health research, and I responded that the German work was essential to ZMap's efforts (as is a Canadian firm). As to whether Germany funded ZMap, as opposed to the DoD and NI oH is irrelevant to my comment that on fact hi tech discoveries and work are proceeding outside the US. There is a lot of excellent research going on in Asia, Canada and Europe. What I find gratifying is that these farflung companies are working together to develop an effective serum and to scale its production as quickly as possible.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/08/07/business/an-obscure-biotech-firm-hurries-ebola-treatment.html?hpw&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpHedThumbWell&module=well-region®ion=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0&referrer=

ivyhall
ivyhall

@bmarvel @TheRuddSki True but at some point self preservation kicks in--and  besides none of the above threaten to become a continent wide pandemic, capable of being spread by mere contact.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Ok, give it a few years, a few tens of millions of dollars, vaccine created, then the big pharmacy hate kicks in.

I'm beginning to lean your way tho, some people simply cannot be educated.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

'It involves education, so, I guess fuck it. Throw money at the problem, that's all you can do with the nation of Africa, right?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bmarvel @everlastingphelps Actually, I thought the same thing.  The same conspiracy theorists would have been up in arms about them "experimenting on Africans" and making allusions to the Tuskegee experiments.  


It's bad timing all around, and all for political reasons.  I really would like to see politics out of science (and vice versa).

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ivyhall @bmarvel @TheRuddSki At what point does self preservation "kick in," ivy? Is that before or after folks learn to trust modern medicine, give up destructive habits ands beliefs? I see no evidence in  history that supports your optimism.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@TheRuddSki Africans certainly can be educated, RuddSki, as surely as Americans. But many things have to happen before education can take effect.Education by itself does not guarantee a just or productive life.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@TheRuddSki You make "education" sound like just sitting the folks in a classroom and explaining a few things. 

The reality -- ask anyone who's been to Africa -- is that you're trying to overturn ways of life, religious rituals, tribal customs, systems of belief that go back thousands of years and affect millions of people of all generations.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

You know s wsy to provide education for free?

Again, please provide details. I will put you in for a medal.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@everlastingphelps @bmarvel We can certainly agree on that, phelps,though the interference tends to run more one way than the other.

ivyhall
ivyhall

@bmarvel @ivyhall @TheRuddSki Really? How short sighted of you.  Native American populations in the Southwest (Navajos/Hopis/ Pueblo Indians eg) maintain their own cultures AND traditions and still have access to PHS and other state of the art western medicine.  They also provide us with state of the art casinos through reciprocity. (lol)

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@bmarvel

Let evolution run it's course then.

There are many jungle plants the locals know will kill them, how'd they figure that out?

Btw, no-one caught my "nation" reference.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@ozonelarryb

Someone said free? Ok, Volunteers, grants from first-world nations for printed materials, etc., Code Pink missions.

Now about that medal.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

It is a crappy set of solutions: a "maybe it works serum" that is untested and even scaled up will be doses in the hundreds, poverty stricken countries with overtaxed health care facilities, a highly fatal disease that takes weeks to exhibit symptoms, a diseased area that is difficult to manage and control, an at risk population many of whom fear health workers, and some of the most corrupt and ineffective governments on the planet. If this were an airborne contagious virus we would be looking at a Spanish influenza tragedy. It is sad that it is taking so long to marshal the resources need to track, find, isolate and treat this disease, which is small scale compared to many others. These viruses represent a greater threat to homeland security than all the terrorists combined. We need to allocate resources accordingly.

ivyhall
ivyhall

@primi_timpano You don't seem to grasp that the NIH is a US institution funded by US taxpayers. BTW I have "asserted" nothing that you have not proven through your references.  Show me how much US research the Max Planck Institutes funds and I may be impressed with your futile arguments.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@TheRuddSki And you, naturally, know what course evolution will take.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

None of those are free. Somebody pays. Maybe not your tax dollars via foreign aid or drug price subsidies, but they all cost domebody somewhere.

But I bet your scheme works on the Loco Haram. They are resdy.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@primi_timpano How many billions have we poured into the War On Terror that might have spent on some sound research in virology? Which "war" would save more lives?

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I fully grasp that the NIoH is a US government agency and funded with taxpayer revenues. What I fail to grasp are the points you are trying to make.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@bmarvel

I can make an educated guess, based on history, that mankind will eventually realize certain behaviors or plants or animals will kill them.

IOW, even if we fail to develop medicine, Africa and indeed mankind will survive Ebola, because the avoidance process is so simple. Avoid Bush meat, isolation of the sick, etc.

What do you think will happen if a vaccine/cure cannot be found, end of the world?

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

So very right. Researchers toiling in labs and stocking treatment supplies do not have the tv ratings of f-16s, Seal teams, etc. Yes, terror is a problem but its probable costs in lost lives and destroyed lives are rounding errors compared to the costs of a pandemic.

Wiki the Spanish pandemic. It amazes me how short our memories are. It is in the nature of viruses to mutate. It is not a question of if a Spanish type mutation and pandemic will occur, it is a question of when. Imagine a Spanish pandemic with the fatality of Ebola, the contagiousness of an airborne swine or avian virus let loose in a world of metroplexes in the tens of millions and world wide air transportation. We do not have enough quarantine facilities, much less hospital beds and treatment supplies to make a dent in this. I don't know what the answers are, what the costs will be for the answers, but as birds, pigs, and people populations increase in density, the probability of a devastating virus increases.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Identification, isolation and treatment is a lot of work and facilities, but Ruddski is right, this is the way epidemics are dealt with. But the western African countries do not have the infrastructure to deal with it, much of the population is suspicious of modern health care and workers, and abandonment of sick loved ones is contrary to human impulses, regardless of the continent from which one comes.

So the nations with the experience and resources chip in and help. It is the humanistic thing to do and it is in our own interests to strive for containment and treatment overseas than here. And here is just a flight away.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@TheRuddSki I think eventually very few Africans will be eating "bush meat" and that African scientists in African institutions will be developing the vaccines -- or whatever we'll be using then. It's only a matter of time, and not much time at that.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@primi_timpano A friend  of mine says "those who don't read science fiction are condemned to live it."

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@primi_timpano A slight correction, primi: What he actually said was "Those who do not learn from science fiction are condemned to live it." I like that better.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I remember reading a book about how people often couch diplomatic policies in the context of historical events, e.g, using Chamberlain's appeasement to support aggressive militaristic responses. But at least they were trying.

Unfortunately our computer driven technologies are creating so many possibilities so quickly we are facing outcomes unimagined by even the likes of Wm Gibson, Wells, etc. Humans are very adaptable creatures but while I have every optimism our species will prevail, we are likely to do so on much smaller scales, both in terms of number and quality of life.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@primi_timpano I'm with William Faulkner: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail." (1950 Nobel speech)

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