By: Bethanie L. Morrison, Ph.D.
Ebola Outbreak – Public Health
The Ebola Emergency — Immediate Action, Ongoing Strategy
The Ebola epidemic is still expanding, according to newly published epidemiological data from the World Health Organization’s Ebola Response Team. An increasing epidemic, one that may in fact become endemic, will lead to a disintegration of an already dysfunctional health care system in Africa. The WHO has estimated that there will be 20,000 cases of Ebola infection by early November. Hospitals will become overwhelmed with Ebola patients and will no longer be able to care for those afflicted with malaria, HIV/AIDS, cancer, or even for women who have complications during childbirth. However, the current Ebola epidemic must take center stage in respect to where our efforts lie. There is a critical need for a massive increase in the current response levels. The questions asked are whether an outbreak of this magnitude could have been prevented and how? According to the report, the slow response time is to blame for letting the epidemic get out of control. Meanwhile, now that the response and relief efforts are underway, it is critical to analyze the response to this outbreak in order to prevent another one from occurring. There is a need for better surveillance, sharing data in real time, and rapid action based on available information. In general, we must learn to work more effectively. (Jeremy J. Farrar and Peter Piot, The New England Journal of Medicine)
Ebola Outbreak – Regulatory Policy
FDA OKs siRNA Ebola Drug
Dr. Richard Sacra, a U.S. physician infected with the most recent Ebola virus, has been given a new therapeutic not yet approved by the FDA called TKM-Ebola. TKM-Ebola is a short-interfering RNA (siRNA)developed by Tekmira that has thus far only been tested in animals, but has been given the green light by the FDA for “compassionate use” as medication in more patients. The compassionate use of this therapy cannot be considered a valid clinical trial, however, and the vetting and thorough FDA review must continue in order for TKM-Ebola to be approved for more widespread use in Ebola patients. (Kerry Grens, The Scientist)
Federal Science Policy
U.S. asks universities to flag risky pathogen experiments
New U.S. government policies released this week call for scientists to flag experiments that employ the use of any of 15 select toxins or dangerous microbes. White House officials are said to be open to engaging in a dialogue with the public regarding the possibility of expanding the list of agents, as some researchers are concerned that certain pathogens have not been included, such as those causing MERS and SARS. The new policies insist that researchers receiving federal funding notify an institutional review board if they are working with one of the 15 pathogens in experiments referred to as dual-use research of concern (DURC). DURC studies may include enhancing the virulence potential of a pathogen while at the same time studying mechanisms by which to kill the organism. The institutional committee then has 30 days to report the activity to the federal funding agency, and 90 days to submit a risk mitigation plan. These new policies are updated from those released in March 2012 and February 2013 identifying the 15 select agents and the need to screen DURC experiments. Research universities believe that the new regulations that include the tight deadlines overlap with other previously released regulations and are unnecessary. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) claims that the new policies are an “additional and important component” of an overall framework, said Andrew Hebbeler, assistant director for biological and chemical threats in the OSTP. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)
Have an interesting science policy link? Share it in the comments!