Ebola drug trials to be fast-tracked in West Africa

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Several experimental Ebola drugs, including compounds from Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Sarepta and Tekmira, will be tested in West Africa for the first time in a bid to fast-track trials, the Wellcome Trust charity said on Tuesday.

Announcing a 3.2 million pounds ($5.25 million) grant for the work, the global health charity said the money would "enable multiple partners around the world to quickly establish clinical trials at existing Ebola treatment centers".

An Ebola epidemic in West Africa has killed more than 2,800 people since it began in Guinea earlier this year, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it fears up to 20,000 people could be affected before it is brought under control.

The unprecedented outbreak of the virus, one of the most virulent infectious diseases known in humans, has been declared a threat to international peace and security by the UN Security Council and prompted demands for an urgent response.

In August a WHO expert panel unanimously concluded that in such exceptional circumstances it would be ethical to deploy and test unregistered experimental treatments on people with Ebola.

"It is a huge challenge to carry out clinical trials under such difficult conditions, but ultimately this is the only way we will ever find out whether any new Ebola treatments actually work," said Jeremy Farrar, the Wellcome Trust's director.

"What's more, rapid trials, followed by large-scale manufacturing and distribution of any effective treatments, might produce medicines that could be used in this epidemic."

The Wellcome Trust said several potential drugs are under consideration and a group of independent experts appointed by WHO is working to recommend which to prioritize based on factors such as which is likely to work best, their availability, the ability to give them safely, and whether they can be manufactured to a useful scale.

It said various pharma companies including Mapp, Sarepta, and Tekmira were working with the initiative and providing data on efficacy, safety, and production abilities for a number of the experimental treatments.