WHO Outlines Timeline for Experimental Ebola Drugs

3 minute read

A committee of more than 150 experts, from scientists to ethicists, have outlined a timeline for testing and using experimental drugs during the Ebola outbreak.

There are currently no approved drugs or vaccines for human use, though several are in early testing. In a press conference today, WHO announced consensus among its committee over the use of whole blood therapies and convalescent blood serums, saying that they deserve priority based on evidence showing they may work for treating Ebola. Vaccine studies are beginning this month in the U.S., and WHO announced that trials will start in Africa and Europe in mid-September. “WHO will work with all the relevant stakeholders to accelerate their development and safe use in affected countries. If proven safe, a vaccine could be available in November 2014 for priority use in health-care workers,” WHO said in a statement sent to reporters.

Given how quickly and exponentially the Ebola outbreak has spread in West Africa, researchers have started to expedite the process of testing and developing their drugs. In early August, the World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the use of experimental drugs during the outbreak, but said that protocols–like the ones set today–were needed.

The National Institutes of Health announced at the end of last month that it’s beginning trials of promising Ebola vaccines, and two American patients with Ebola were given an experimental drug called ZMapp. Though both of the patients survived, it’s impossible to tell whether the drug was solely responsible. Other people given the drug have not survived.

During the press conference, Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s assistant director-general for health systems and innovation, said there’s not enough evidence yet to know whether ZMapp really works, and Dr. Samba Sow, director general of the Center for Vaccine Development in Mali, discussed a vaccine trial starting in Mali. (Mali doesn’t have any Ebola patients yet, but its neighboring countries do.)

WHO said the panel did discuss the potential of novel drugs and therapies–some of which have shown promise in monkeys–but that they could not make any conclusions on their efficacy just yet.

The new recommendations give countries a bit more guidance when it comes to choosing therapies and offer some hope in the midst of a disease outbreak with devastating outcomes. As TIME previously reported, countries will have to determine for themselves, with WHO guidance, who will actually receive experimental treatments should they choose to pursue them.

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