UPDATED: WHO endorses experimental treatments for Ebola patients
UPDATE: CBC News reports that the Canadian government agreed on Tuesday to donate between 800 and 1,000 doses of its experimental Ebola vaccine, VSV-EBOV, to the WHO after the organization announced its decision. They will also donate $185,000 in aid for West Africa. Canada will be holding onto a small stockpile of the vaccine in case of a future emergency with health workers in the country.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday announced that Ebola patients in West Africa should be treated with untested, experimental medications like Mapp Biopharmaceutical's ZMapp.
- The WHO had convened an ethics panel on Monday to discuss the various issues surrounding the administration of experimental drugs during crises like the Ebola outbreak. Two infected Americans have been treated with ZMapp and are reportedly responding well to the drug. A Spanish priest who received a dose in Europe over the weekend died earlier on Tuesday.
- There is still no official process for determining who should have priority access to the experimental treatments. Two infected Liberian doctors will be the first patients to receive ZMapp in West Africa.
The WHO ethics panel was unambiguous on the question of whether or not the current epidemic, which has killed more than 1,000 people and infected more than 1,800, warrants extreme measures such as the use of untested drugs. "There was unanimous agreement... that in the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak, it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention," said WHO assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny in a statement.
What's less clear is which procedures will be used to determine who gets access to highly-sought drugs like ZMapp. That is bound to become more and more of a problem as already-scarce supplies of experimental treatmtents continue to dwindle. On Tuesday, Mapp Biopharmaceutical announced that it is has now depleted all available ZMapp doses after sending free treatments to West Africa.
ZMapp is expected to proceed to human clinical trials in the coming months, with assistance from the U.S. Defense Department. Other drug makers including Sarepta, Tekmira, and GlaxoSmithKline are working on a variety of Ebola treatments and vaccines.