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WHO backs use of untested drugs in Ebola

Public health risk means it is ethical to offer treatments with unknown adverse effects

who ebolaWorld Health Organization (WHO) experts in medical ethics have said the public health risks posed by the Ebola outbreak make it acceptable to test unproven drugs in infected patients.

With West Africa experiencing the "largest, most severe and most complex outbreak of Ebola virus disease in history," the panel concluded that it was ethical to offer "interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment or prevention."

The announcement - which came after unanimous agreement among the experts convened by the WHO - has prompted an immediate response from some companies developing drugs and vaccines for the disease, although it is clear supplies of any of the medicines will be limited.

Liberia had already issued a plea for access to an experimental drug for Ebola - Mapp Biopharmaceutical's Zmapp - and company has now said it will provide its entire reserves of the drug free of charge in order to treat healthcare workers exposed to the virus.

Zmapp has already been given to two US health workers, who seem to have recovered from the infection, as well as a Spanish missionary who sadly died yesterday. The WHO has, however, indicated that there are only 12 more doses of the drug in stock, and while Mapp's manufacturing partner Kentucky BioProcessing is ramping up production it will take months for new supplies to be ready.

Canada meanwhile has said it will donate up to 1,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine that has so far only been tested in animals, in the hopes that it can be used to protect the healthcare workers battling the outbreak.

Canada is reserving some doses for research purposes and in case Ebola breaches its borders, and Dr Gregory Taylor - deputy head of the country's Public Health Agency - has also warned that as the effective dose in humans is unknown the number of people who might receive it could change.

At last count, the WHO estimates that the virus has infected 1,848 people and killed 1,013.

Other companies may come forward and add to the treatments available, but the WHO panel also pointed to other ethical issues that need to be tackled, such as how to gather data effectively while they are being administered.

There is a "moral obligation" that data from the use of experimental drugs is collected and shared to build knowledge about their effects and guide future interventions, as well as to find ways to prioritise the use of unregistered medicines.

Article by
Phil Taylor

13th August 2014

From: Healthcare



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