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Ebola Vaccine Might Never Reach Market, Scientists Say

Ebola specialists are doubtful that a vaccine to protect people against the virus will ever be available on the market, the BBC reported on Wednesday (see GSN, May 9).

The virus that causes the hemorrhagic fever is considered a potential bioterror agent. Ebola is lethal in as many as 90 percent of cases, according to the report.

The U.S. Defense Department and the National Institutes of Health have provided millions of dollars for work on an Ebola vaccine, which has led to a number of experimental treatments that have undergone successful animal testing.

The Pentagon, though, earlier this month directed Massachusetts-based Sarepta Therapeutics and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals of Canada to suspend vaccine development activities due to financing restrictions. The future of those efforts are expected to be known next month.

"With the current funding, if it doesn't change, I would say there should be a vaccine in five to seven years. It could double or triple it if the funding goes away," U.S. Army virologist Gene Olinger said to the BBC.

The random nature of Ebola outbreaks and the disease's high lethality leave the overall number of cases relatively low -- 2,200 patients dating to 1976. That means there is not likely to be a significant profit from marketing a vaccine.

"I think it's unlikely that a large pharmaceutical company would get involved," said Larry Zeitlin, president of Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego. "There isn't a huge customer base and big pharma is obviously interested in big profits. So these niche products which are important for biodefense are really driven by small companies."

He added: "I think it's unlikely you'll see a vaccine that's used in millions and millions of people to prevent the disease, that might only come about if the nature of the disease changed, if it became something spread through airborne contact more like the flu."

"Overall we've made great progress but unfortunately we are still far away from commercial use. It is hard to say when a vaccine might be available, if ever," said Heinz Feldmann, who heads hemorrhagic fever research at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana (Matt McGrath, BBC News, Aug. 15).

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GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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