The Hill: Senators plan bill to speed up approval of Ebola drugs

Posted on October 28, 2014

Leaders of the Senate Health Committee are planning to introduce a bill that would fast-track the creation of Ebola treatments by offering incentives to drug companies.

Under the proposed legislation from Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the federal government would speed through a company’s drug application for Ebola within about six months through a program called “priority review.”

To sweeten the deal, the companies would also earn a bonus voucher for another drug of their choice to receive priority review, even if it’s not meant to treat a neglected disease like Ebola.    

“The world is in desperate need of a vaccine to prevent Ebola and a drug to treat it,”  Alexander wrote in a statement.

“This bill will help fight Ebola with a tool that encourages the development of necessary but unprofitable drugs — offering a reward for drug makers who invest the time and resources to develop drugs to treat, and hopefully cure, Ebola,” he said.

Currently, Ebola is not one of the “neglected diseases” that qualifies for the priority review voucher program. That would change under the bipartisan bill.

The Food and Drug Administration, which signs off on all new medical treatments, has already been working in overdrive on Ebola drugs. Agency officials have said that the current pace of reviewing new drug applications to fight Ebola — taking just days instead of months or years — set agency records.

No drug or vaccine is currently approved for use against Ebola, though several people infected with the virus have recovered after receiving experimental treatments.

Lawmakers and public health leaders have said that Ebola vaccines and treatments have been delayed for years because there has been little market demand. Only a few thousand cases had ever been reported before this year.

Now, more than 10,000 people have been infected, nearly half of whom have died.

The Harkin-Alexander bill is set to be introduced when Congress reconvenes after the midterm elections.