The benefits of developing an Ebola vaccine

A view of gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou

This week, the National Institutes of Health begins testing an Ebola vaccine in humans. Given the need to quickly stem the deadly outbreak in West Africa, global health officials hope to push a vaccine to market.

While there's currently a market for an Ebola vaccine, it’s small, and Ebola isn’t a disease that keeps popping up year-after-year. 

“It’s not all about economics,” says Dr. Carlos Del Rio, chair of the Department of Global Health at Emory University. He says developing the vaccine is also about building good PR for a company. “There’s a value to that publicity, right?”

Right, says Kenneth Kaitin, director of the Center for Drug Development at Tufts University. But Kaitin says there is also the potential for a huge payoff, especially for smaller companies. 

Think of it as a pharmaceutical version of “Cap and Trade.”

“A program that the FDA put in place several years ago gives a priority review voucher to any company developing a product for a neglected or tropical disease,” says Kaitin.

Ebola is a perfect exampleThat pharma company can sell the voucher to another drug maker. The “golden ticket” gets the purchaser a fast track to federal regulators for any other drug in its portfolio.

One voucher recently sold for more than $67 million.  

About the author

Jim Burress is a reporter for WABE in Atlanta.

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