As of October 23,2014 more than 4,900 people have died from the current Ebola outbreak, concentrated in the three West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.
Frustrated that the process of getting experimental vaccines to West Africa was not moving fast enough, some were quick to blame intellectual property rights.
But in reality, as government officials were quick to point out, the WHO first needed to resolve important ethical and safety considerations before a vaccine that has never been tested in humans can be given to desperate people in West
Patents are simply not the issue.
At a September meeting of international experts at the WHO evaluating Ebola therapies and vaccines, WHO assistant director general Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny firmly stated that intellectual property issues have not acted as a barrier to potential treatments and
For the past several months, international organizations, private companies, and government agencies have been working together to accelerate the process of development so that by the end of 2015, millions of doses of experimental Ebola treatments could be produced and distributed to quell the spread. The focus for biotechnology companies and health providers has been on finding the best and safest solutions for Ebola victims around the world.
U.S. health officials have asked advanced biotech laboratories to submit plans for producing experimental drugs like ZMapp, a promising therapy which ran out after it was given to medical workers who contracted Ebola in West Africa.
The Public Health Agency of Canada developed a preliminary Ebola vaccine and then licensed the intellectual property rights to biotechnology company NewLink Genetics, so that they could accelerate production and move into human trials.
The second leading vaccine in development, ChAd3, was developed jointly by the biowarfare arm of the USNational Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Trials of the ChAd3 vaccine are under way at an NIH clinical center in Bethesda, Maryland, and in Mali.
Johnson & Johnson will start trials for a vaccine in January 2015, spending up to $200 million to speed up production after it licensed the rights from a Danish company in September.
At an October press briefing on Ebola treatments and vaccines, the WHO praised development partners for being on the forefront of the response, and stated that discussions were underway regarding finance and distribution of treatments at affordable prices.
While the world is in a race to develop safe and effective vaccines, rather than impeding the process, intellectual property is being used as a tool to allocate scarce drug development resources and to ensure coordination among top scientists and researchers. With these collaborative efforts and the funding of critical research, these treatments can be used to end the current outbreak and prevent future ones worldwide.