Wellcome Trust to invest in Ebola research

A multi-million-pound emergency fund for research aimed at containing the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and future outbreaks of infectious disease has been announced by the Wellcome Trust.

The UK’s Wellcome Trust is the second-highest-spending charitable foundation in the world and aims to bring about major improvements in human and animal health. It has been a long-term supporter of research into diseases affecting Africa.

The latest outbreak of the deadly virus is the worst ever, and a total of 1,350 people have died in four West African countries – Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The emergency Ebola initiative, which includes contributions from partner funders, will support research that can swiftly begin to investigate new approaches to treating, preventing and containing the disease during the current epidemic in West Africa. It will also support research into the ethical challenges of testing experimental medicines during epidemics.

The Wellcome Trust is also making a further long-term commitment through a £40 million programme of support for excellence in African research. The investment will support the development of a world-class medical research base so it is better equipped to investigate and tackle its greatest health challenges.

Among the broad range of public health, medical training and research initiatives announced, there is a call for research proposals that would evaluate experimental therapies and vaccines for Ebola, focusing on clinical studies that could begin during the current epidemic. The Trust has promised to evaluate any proposals urgently. The Trust will also consider research proposals that would evaluate the ethical challenges of conducting health research during epidemics such as Ebola, on a similar accelerated basis.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “The Wellcome Trust is investing today in a package of research that can make a difference to Africa in the short, the medium and the long term. Measures to contain, treat and prevent diseases such as Ebola can be evaluated only in the context of epidemics like this one, which is why support for research is needed immediately. We are grateful to the partners who have helped us to launch these initiatives so quickly.”

There is no known cure for Ebola, but the World Health Organization recently ruled that drugs that have undergone no previous trials in humans can be used to treat patients, such is the desperate need for treatment.

ZMapp, a candidate under development by US company Mapp Pharmaceuticals, is being used to treat several people who contracted Ebola, with some showing signs of recovery. However manufacturing of the drug remains a challenge, and the firm currently has no more supplies to provide for treatment. Authorities in the countries are focusing on efforts to isolate victims to prevent the further spread of the disease.

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Zmapp to treat Liberian Ebola victims

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