With short outbreaks and complex permissions, testing critical Ebola treatments is a challenge
The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo may end without the available experimental drugs having been tested, given the way transmission appears to have slowed. And some experts who have watched with frustration the snail’s pace progress of the efforts to study Ebola drugs during outbreaks are beginning to wonder if, with the advent of Ebola vaccines, the window for doing this kind of research may be closing for good.
There are now several experimental treatments vying to be tested, but each must be greenlit by national regulatory authorities whenever and wherever an outbreak occurs. There remain deeply divergent positions among scientists about how to design outbreak trials, specifically whether studies that don’t compare treatments to placebos can generate useful data. Add to that the fact that outbreaks are sporadic, and are often stopped after a few dozen cases.
The upshot: Ebola outbreaks are tough, tough circumstances in which to try to do badly needed research.