Monday, August 4, 2014

The FDA recently halted trials on a potential Ebola treatment

Finding money to back an investment in Ebola treatments has been difficult — but not impossible.

A Canadian pharmaceutical company called Tekmira has been at work for the past few years on an Ebola treatment called TKM-Ebola. It has been among the most advanced attempts at a drug that could protect against, and treat, the disease — but was also recently dealt a setback by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Diseases like Ebola often have difficulty attracting investment, as pharmaceutical companies rarely see a large payday in tackling a disease that has rare outbreaks and affects a low-income area of the world.

But TKM-Ebola has attracted the interest of the government. The Defense Department awarded it a contract for $140 million in 2010, after the vaccine proved completely effective in treating non-human primates in chimps. The government's interest in vaccinating against Ebola is largely rooted in preventing bioterrorism attacks, where the disease could be used a weapon.

In January, TKM-Ebola began Phase One trials with the Food and Drug Administration, injecting its first patient with the drug on January 14. This is the phase where drug companies test whether a drug is safe — that it doesn't create dangerous complications or side effects — before bigger studies look at whether the drug actually works.

The drug got added to the FDA's "fast track" schedule two months later, in March. That's a designation given to drugs that can help treat conditions without any current therapies. Once a drug receives that designation, its creators are eligible for more frequent meetings with FDA regulators, aimed at speeding up the drug's development.

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