Lessons Learned from the Ebola Crisis
By: Kelly McKee, MD | January 22, 2015
The ongoing Ebola crisis has become one of the greatest public health challenges of modern time. Thousands of people are dead, communities are devastated, families have been torn apart, and national economies and healthcare systems brought to their knees. It has also been a powerful catalyst for the healthcare industry, causing competitors to set aside their differences and join forces, working together create a vaccine with the potential to save millions of lives and putting a stop to this devastating epidemic.
While media coverage has focused (quite rightly) on the human toll of Ebola, biopharma companies, regulators and global health organizations have been collaborating in the background to rapidly develop, test, and validate vaccines and anti-viral drugs that will combat the Ebola virus. Industry leaders have committed their best minds to this effort, and are investing millions of their own dollars to find solutions as quickly as possible, often throwing their own cost/benefit scenarios out the window as they focus on ending the nightmare.
Trials of several potential Ebola vaccines are already underway in Canada, the US, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and across sub-Saharan Africa through collaborative industry, governmental, and not-for-profit efforts. Cross-industry efforts include Inovio Pharmaceuticals, which is collaborating with GeneOne Life Science to develop a DNA-based Ebola vaccine, and Merck, which has entered into a worldwide license agreement with NewLink to develop its rVSV-EBOV (Ebola) vaccine candidate. Johnson & Johnson and Bavarian Nordic are working together on a prime-boost vaccination strategy, while Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline have been in discussions to work collaboratively on development of their respective Ebola vaccine candidates. The clinical trial process is also being accelerated at an unprecedented speed and at substantial cost to developers, who have set aside other development goals because time is the most important factor in this effort.
Let’s save the world
In an industry stereotyped for its secrecy and dedication to profits, it is heartening to see industry leaders setting aside talk of financial gains and intellectual property, to focus on jointly solving this global public health crisis. It is demonstrative of what can be accomplished when we break down our siloes and work together toward the common good.
Once this mission is accomplished, I hope we can apply some of the lessons learned to future development strategies. Every new drug has the potential to solve someone’s health crisis, and the sooner we can deliver treatments to market, the faster patients’ problems can be solved. And while the effort to address the Ebola crisis is an extreme, it provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the traditional, orderly drug development process …a process that, while time-tested, is both lengthy and expensive.
From eliminating the white space between development stages, to establishing cooperative partnerships to jointly develop more innovative and efficient healthcare solutions, this Ebola journey should remind us to question long-held processes and beliefs.
Such reflection will help us get ahead of the next global healthcare crisis, and enable us to tease out the incremental solutions that could make our every-day approach to drug development that much more efficient.