The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded Tekmira a $140 million contract to research a treatment for the Ebola virus. Last month, Tekmira announced in a press release that the FDA had granted their drug, TKM-Ebola, a Fast Track designation for development as a viral therapeutic. Dr. Mark J. Murray, Tekmira's President and CEO, said: “This is an important milestone for Tekmira and our TKM-Ebola program. Receiving a Fast Track designation from the FDA supports our work to advance the development of this therapeutic as quickly as possible. Our leadership in developing anti-viral therapies has been supported by our collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense, which is funding the development of TKM-Ebola.”
The global market for Ebola is small, because the disease is rare. According to the International Business Times, Ebola has affected fewer than 10,000. Because it’s a relatively limited market, pharmaceutical companies are less willing to fund the difficult and lengthy research process that often goes into developing treatments for more common diseases, like malaria. However, this is not to understate the severity of the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus is classified as a “Category A Pathogen,” which “requires special action for public health preparedness.”
Ben Neuman, a virologist for the UK’s University of Reading told the IB Times that diseases such as Ebola are more likely to receive funding from the U.N.or the U.S. governmentbecause of their focus on the greater public good.
Last month, the company started its first human trials for TKM-Ebola. In light of the treatment’s dramatic progress, some members of the medical community are asking if Tekmira should be authorizing the use of the drug in the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In times of crisis, sometimes volunteers can use unapproved medicines in what is called “compassionate use authorization.” However, it isn't known if TKM-Ebola has been developed to the point where compassionate use is viable. “My impression is that it's not advanced enough to use on a compassionate basis,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
However, there are some who believe deploying TKM-EBOLA in the current outbreak could be beneficial for both patients and those developing drugs. According to Dirk Haussecker, an independent consultant in the field, “Deploying TKM-EBOLA in the current outbreak would have benefits for both the drug developer and patients. You could argue that it is ethically more troubling testing a new compound in healthy volunteers when actual patients are available.”