Coronavirus and Ebola Show We Can’t Leave Vaccine Development to Big Pharma
Juliana Broad writes about the botched development of the Ebola vaccine, citing the work of The Democracy Collaborative’s Dana Brown on the necessity of public pharma.
Five years after an Ebola epidemic killed more than 11,000 people across West Africa, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced at the end of December 2019 that Merck, the behemoth, for-profit pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey, had received approval for an Ebola vaccine.
But this is hardly a success story. In fact, the saga behind the vaccine’s development sheds light on how involving private pharmaceutical companies may have obstructed the vaccine’s progress, profiting from publicly funded research only once the vaccine’s development proved to be lucrative business.
A new report, published in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, details how the Ebola vaccine, Ervebo, was almost entirely researched and developed using public money, challenging the common assumption that only private, profit-driven companies are able to bring drugs to market.
Matthew Herder, one of the authors of the report, noted parallels between the Ebola response and the current coronavirus outbreak. “It seems fairly clear that the same approach — of patenting and licensing out to the private sector — is being relied upon by the public sector to advance vaccine development,” he told Truthout via email.
Herder emphasizes that their case study on Ebola cannot be generalized. Nonetheless, the authors raise a particularly urgent question as the U.S. struggles to marshal a response to a spreading coronavirus outbreak: Could the Ebola vaccine have been produced earlier, potentially saving thousands of lives, if researchers could have avoided the profit-driven trappings of private pharmaceutical companies?