The Cable

Momentum to Fund Ebola Vaccine Research Grows in Congress

As the Ebola outbreak continues in West Africa, momentum to change FDA restrictions to allow Congress to allocate money toward research on drugs that treat tropical diseases, including Ebola, is growing. A bill drafted by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) that would allow the FDA to fund Ebola treatment research will be ...

Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

As the Ebola outbreak continues in West Africa, momentum to change FDA restrictions to allow Congress to allocate money toward research on drugs that treat tropical diseases, including Ebola, is growing.

A bill drafted by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) that would allow the FDA to fund Ebola treatment research will be marked up next week by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"This bill will help fight Ebola with a tool that encourages the development of necessary vaccines and drugs with little to no market in the United States — offering a reward to innovators who invest the time and resources to develop vaccines and drugs to treat, and hopefully cure, Ebola," Alexander stated on Wednesday.

The bill, which has 17 co-sponsors, is part of a flurry of congressional activity on Ebola and the Obama administration’s $6.18 billion proposal to confront the disease domestically and abroad. The Senate Appropriations Committee debated Obama’s plan on Wednesday, and House and Senate panels are expected to address the White House’s spending request next week.

Wednesday and Thursday, Obama administration public-health figures separately told the House Foreign Affairs and the Senate Appropriations committees that part of the president’s funding request would allow Ebola vaccines to be tested in West Africa as soon as January.

"We could know by the middle of 2015 whether or not we have an effective vaccine," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Senate spending panel on Wednesday.

"This is a fast-moving and adaptable viral epidemic. We need to be fast-moving and adaptable," Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development told the House panel Thursday. "We really do require these resources to be successful. Frankly, we will not succeed without them."

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden and Ebola czar Ron Klain told aid groups gathered at the White House to pressure Congress to approve the funding request.

"Your word carries a lot more weight in this environment, in this political environment," Biden said, according to the Associated Press.

Klain told the assembled groups that the fight against the disease in West Africa was far from over and that new cases in the United States are likely.

"We are not at the beginning of the end or even the end of the beginning. We are in the throes of this effort in West Africa, with interventions that can work but a lot of work to be done," Klain reportedly said.


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