Reflections on a Health Crisis

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Ebola is worrying, very worrying. The worst outbreak of recent times has taken thousands of lives in four West African countries and the virus has begun to appear in the US and Europe – and in one case transmitted to a local healthcare worker. The death rate from this terrible infection is over 50%.

The threat has energised the global health innovation community, but of course discovering and developing new therapies and vaccines can take years. One particular medicine – a mix of antibodies call ZMapp – has been catapulted from early investigation to being used to treat as many patients as the limited supplies allow.

Worrying and tragic as it is, this Ebola outbreak and how we are responding to it, raises an important and much broader question:

If Ebola, with it’s fatality rate justifies this kind kind of acceleration of the innovation process, what about other conditions like motor neurone disease or muscular dystrophy, that take even more of the lives they strike?

Of course, there is something particularly menacing about an infection that could become pandemic, and it is right that the system should galvanise into rapid action, but I also believe we need to consider accelerating development and patient access in other serious diseases with little or no treatment options.

The EMA’s pilot in ‘Adaptive Licensing’ (or ‘Medicines Adaptive Pathways for Patients) are an important and welcome step in this direction. CASMI is working on AL/MAPPs on behalf of the UK Government and the European Innovative Medicines Initiative, to speed up this development. The goal is to allow new therapies to reach patients years ahead of current practice. Of course there are issues and challenges ahead, but we believe we owe it to patients to try.


Dr Richard Barker

Director of CASMI

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