MOSCOW, September 19 (RIA Novosti), Ekaterina Blinova - As the Ebola infection spirals out of control, epidemiologists admit that the speed at which the contagious virus is spreading has outstripped the rate at which drugs and vaccines can be produced to combat it.
"As Ebola outbreak in West Africa accelerates, the containment measures that worked in the past, such as isolating those who are infected and tracing their contacts, clearly have failed. This has spurred hopes that biomedical countermeasures, such as monoclonal anti-bodies and vaccines, can help save lives and slow spread. But as President Barack Obama calls for an aggressive ramp up of the US government's response, resolve is colliding with a grim reality: The epidemic is outpacing the speed with which drugs and vaccines can be produced," writes Jon Cohen in his article "Ebola vaccine: Little and late," which was published in the latest issue of Science magazine.
Although companies are seeking ways in which to scale up Ebola vaccine and treatment production, manufacturers claim they need at least nine months to produce enough doses to contain the disease.
Jon Cohen emphasizes that animal studies have indicated that the Ebola virus can be destroyed "with the proper immune response." He cites John Eldridge, chief scientific officer at Profectus BioSciences, a New York based company, as saying: "Although Ebola is a very scary, hemorrhagic virus, all you need is fairly modest neutralizing antibody response and you're protected."
However, hundreds of thousands of doses are needed to suspend the disastrous outbreak. The human Ebola vaccine that Profectus is developing will only be ready next June. The company desperately needs funding to scale up production from the planned 5,000 to 20,000 doses, according to John Eldridge. Alas, this amount will not be enough to defeat the virus, Jon Cohen underscores.
The author notes that an Ebola vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) of Belgium, "is the furthest along," as the company began testing the vaccine on humans on September 2, 2014. Ripley Ballou, GSK's Ebola vaccine program head, claims the company will produce about 10,000 doses by the end of the year. However, Ballou stresses that the manufacturer needs "more master seed." Furthermore, to improve the production rate, huge bioreactors that hold 1,000 liters or more are required. "The driver is really the productivity of the cell line," Ballou adds, as cited by Jon Cohen. If the company obtains all of the equipment it needs, "the most optimistic timeline for 100,000 to 500,000 doses of vaccine" will be about nine months, Ripley Ballou says, estimating the cost of the project at $25 million.
The question remains if the Ebola prevention mission can "wait" up to nine months until manufacturers produce enough vaccines to fight the infection.
On August 28, the New York Times reported that "the Ebola epidemic was still accelerating and could afflict more than 20,000 people" within six to nine months, before specialists could take control of the infection, citing the World Health Organization. Francis Smart, a Michigan State University econometrics expert, argues that the figures have been underestimated.
"Using a projection from all of the WHO reports to date, I calculate that if the disease continues to spread at the rate it currently is, then we will have more than 20,000 cases by October 24," he writes in his report "1.2 million Ebola deaths projected in 6 months", which was published on the Econometrics by Simulation website.
According to the econometrics expert's estimation, 4.7 million people will be infected and 1.2 million will die in a six to nine-month period, if the disease spreads at its current rates. Francis Smart notes, however, that his model "can be a good approximation locally (in the near future)," while it "cannot be true globally (into the distant future)."
"These are extremely dire predictions and I hope that they are purely extrapolations based on what will later be seen as the scariest month of this epidemic," the expert explains.
Still he emphasizes that "the exponential growth model fits the data very well and at least in the short term should be expected to be fairly accurate."
The health care situation in West Africa is catastrophic and the international response in fighting the deadly virus has been too slow, experts warn. The pandemic has demonstrated the weakness of the global health care infrastructure. The global powers should join efforts in order to find the way to defeat the disease, otherwise the consequences of Ebola epidemic will be dire, experts predict gloomily.