A trio of experts has urged the use of experimental drugs in fighting the deadly Ebola virus in west Africa.
The group, which includes Peter Piot, who co-discovered Ebola in the 1970s, say African countries should be speaking with pharmaceutical firms and then making rapid decisions on what untested drugs they could begin using.
The experts – which also include Jeremy Farrar, of the Wellcome Trust, and David Heymann (see video), head of the Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security – call on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to do more to help make this happen.
It comes as WHO confirmed 961 have now died from the current strain of Ebola. It said the outbreak was an ‘extraordinary event’ and an international public health emergency.
The trio said in a statement: “It is highly likely that if Ebola were now spreading in Western countries, public-health authorities would give at-risk patients access to experimental drugs or vaccines. Indeed, there are reports that two US relief workers infected with Ebola in Liberia have been offered experimental therapies, which they have accepted.
“There are antiviral drugs, monoclonal antibodies and vaccines under study that have shown varying degrees of effectiveness in animals that have been infected with or exposed to the Ebola virus. Medical agencies in rich counties affected by Ebola would begin discussions with companies and labs developing these products and then make rapid decisions about which of them might be appropriate for compassionate use.
“The African countries where the current outbreaks of Ebola are occurring should have the same opportunity. African governments should be allowed to make informed decisions about whether or not to use these products, for example to protect and treat health-care workers who run especially high risks of infection.
“The World Health Organization could assist African countries with developing rigorous protocols for the use and study of experimental approaches to treatment and prevention, while coordinating more traditional containment measures. As the only body with the necessary international authority, it must take on this greater leadership role.”
WHO is due to consider next week the ethics of administering experimental drugs in the fight against Ebola.
Meanwhile a special Ebola working group has been set up by the Obama administration to consider the “broad principles of decision-making” for the potential use of experimental drugs.
Obama said on August 7 it was too soon to send experimental drugs to West Africa to treat those hit by the deadly disease.