When rivals start cooperating with each other, you know the situation is dire.
Pharmaceutical firms are not just looking into speeding up the development of vaccines for the Ebola virus on their own but are also now pledging to work together if needed to help take control of the outbreak. The World Health Organization is also set to meet with industry executives, funders, drug regulators, and representatives from countries affected by the outbreak to discuss the issue of indemnity for pharmaceutical firms.
Ebola has now claimed more than 4,500 lives since the outbreak began in March. By working together and on their respective vaccines, pharmaceutical giants are hoping to push out millions of vaccine doses ready for use in 2015.
Johnson & Johnson is scheduled to produce at least a million of its two-step vaccine next year, already discussing with GlaxoSmithKline about the possibility of collaboration. GSK, on the other hand, has the most advanced vaccine to date and is set to have first doses ready towards the end of the year. Pfizer is not involved in developing an Ebola vaccine but may be able to help with production to ensure demands are met.
Ebola outbreaks in the past have been minimal so pharmaceutical companies did not invest seriously in developing a working vaccine against the virus. Potential losses remain a reality even when the current outbreak has ballooned, enough to warrant international attention, so an indemnity system made sense. This will lower risks for pharmaceutical firms as they are fast-tracking Ebola vaccines, achieving in months what would normally take years.
Europe will be providing $250 million in funding to help in the development of Ebola vaccines and other drugs that may be used in curbing the outbreak.
The WHO hopes that by January, thousands of health workers and other personnel in West Africa involved in combating Ebola will be given vaccines for the virus as part of wide-scale clinical trials.
J&J is currently working on vaccines for both the Sudan and Zaire strains of the virus but is expected to focus on the latter as this is the strain currently causing the outbreak. Vaccine for a related condition known as Marburg disease is also under development.
"Ebola is a significant and growing threat to the people of West Africa and it has the potential to impact people around the world. We are committed to bringing our science, technology, innovation and resources to help prevent and treat this deadly disease," declared Paul Stoffels, M.D., J&J Chief Scientific Officer and Worldwide Chairman for Pharmaceuticals.