Local Ebola serum spurs frustration over access

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SAN DIEGO - There is growing outrage over the locally-made Ebola serum being used to treat two Americans.

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute are part of a seven-country initiative that developed a serum, which was then manufactured by San Diego company Mapp Bio. It was flown to Liberia and given to two American aid workers.

Both workers are apparently doing better. Hopes are growing, and so is the frustration.

NYU medical ethics expert Arthur Caplan wrote a piece for the Washington Post, entitled, "Why do two white Americans get the Ebola serum while hundreds of Africans die?"

“Remember, it was brought to Africa to give to them, so people are saying, 'You don't care about us?'" said Caplan.

In publications across West Africa, 10News found articles asking that question. One op-ed on the website Front Page Africa begins with, "W. Africa needs secret serum that cured Americans". Also in the piece is this phrase: "Sadly, it is taking a lot of deaths to get the superpowers' attention."

Caplan says sadly, mass producing the serum is not possible in the short term.

"It will take quite a while before we can gear up to make this drug, and that's the reality," he said.

Caplan says Mapp Bio has a small amount of the serum and no facility is ready to mass produce it.

The funding for mass production may not come easily, since nobody knows if the serum is actually working. Formal human trials have not taken place, which means things like dosage levels and side effects remain unknowns.

"Without approval, no one's going to build that factory until the FDA says it works," said Caplan.

Early next week, the World Health Organization will convene a panel to consider who should receive the limited supply of the San Diego serum.

So far, more than 930 Ebola deaths have been reported. Nearly all of them were in West Africa.

As for the question posed by the newspaper, Caplan says an agreement was struck between the group sponsoring the aid workers and Mapp Bio. It is unclear how much, if any, money was exchanged.

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