We’ve done a full 360 on Zika. In early 2016, the WHO declared Zika to be a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” Less than two years later we’re just injecting it into brains willy-nilly to see what it does. To be fair, it does seem to kill glioblastomas pretty effectively, so we’ll give mad scientists a pass this time. Still, the Zika crisis did seem to peter out quickly in the Americas, at least quicker than US government investors expected. Without any real epidemic threat from the virus forthcoming, funding for the government and Sanofi’s vaccine development partnership has dried up. There are still two vaccine candidates from GSK and Takeda in development, but the decision has been criticized as short-sighted.
Last Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) elected their first African Director-General. First, who knew they elected this position? Second, it’s about time. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was nominated by his home country of Ethiopia and has an impressive resume of international posts. It seems like the WHO did its homework in selecting someone from Africa. According to the UN, Africa is expected to have ~25% of the world’s population by 2050 and ~39% by 2100, representing the majority of the population growth. Well done WHO, but we do wonder if they know that WHAT plays second base and I DON’T KNOW plays third.
Slight paraphrase, but the point holds. This week, WHO released its rapidly (tragically) expanding list of “super-bugs”—drug-resistant bacteria that have stopped responding to antibiotics. For some context, these strains resulted in more than 50,000 fatalities last year. The older and infirmed are usually at greatest risk, but five-alarm bells are sounding from new findings that pediatric infection has increased sevenfold within the decade. With our last lines of antibiotic defense now losing efficacy, the fix comes down to R&D. However, new antibiotic discoveries are limited after 70 years of research, and…pharma doesn’t get huge ROIs from antibiotic research. But Pharma, hear us at InsightCity—if anyone is saving the day, and all of humanity—it will be you.
That’s what Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, WHO, and other experts are discussing. The West African Ebola crisis led to a push for accelerated access to treatments, arguing that using a potential therapy with promising results in animal studies is OK during a major public health crisis. Meaning, even if the FDA hasn’t approved it for use in humans, patients should still have access (in some circumstances). MSF’s article in The Journal of Medical Ethics seeks to define these “exceptional circumstances” and the goals of using unproven therapies. This could be a tipping point for research ethics. Good news, since there’s still no approved treatment for Ebola.