Among the most promising experimental Ebola vaccines is a drug called ZMapp – and it could have been ready to treat patients long ago had it not sat in a Pentagon drug testing agency for two years waiting for a contract, Bloomberg Businessweek has found. ZMapp, an antibody “cocktail” created by California-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, has shown to be 100 percent effective in protecting monkeys from Ebola if administered to the animals within 24 hours of exposure.
However, because of underfunding and excessive bureaucratic hurdles, it was never approved for human trial and has not been produced on a large scale. Experts say if the drug had gone through human clinical trials sooner, there may have been a stockpile of the drug on hand to help stop the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. “This is something that, given the emergency, the government could have moved a little faster on, quite honestly,” Robert Garry, a professor of microbiology at Tulane University in New Orleans, told Bloomberg Businessweek.
ZMapp is not the only Ebola treatment that faced onerous complications during development. Several vaccines and drugs have shown promise in animal studies, but very few have begun human trials, and there is not a single promising vaccine on the market, a Newsweek report has found.
Meanwhile, health officials in London plan to bring clinical trials for some Ebola treatments to West Africa for the first time. The U.K.-based charity Wellcome Trust has pledged 3.2 million pounds ($5.25 million) to fast-track trials of drugs from Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Sarepta and Tekmira in West Africa, according to Reuters. "It is a huge challenge to carry out clinical trials under such difficult conditions, but ultimately this is the only way we will ever find out whether any new Ebola treatments actually work," Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Trust's director, said in a statement. “Rapid trials, followed by large-scale manufacturing and distribution of any effective treatments, might produce medicines that could be used in this epidemic."
The situation in Liberia, where Ebola cases have been highest, is grim. Some 3,280 people have been infected there, 1,720 of whom have died. Those who are sick are having an increasingly difficult time finding medical treatment, according to Vice. More than 150 Liberian health workers have contracted the virus, nurses have gone on strike and medical resources are in short supply.