EBOLA and FDA: reviewing the response to the 2014 outbreak, to find lessons for the future image

Journal of Law and the Biosciences, September 16, 2016
Emily A. Largent (Student Fellow alumna)


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In 2014, West Africa confronted the most severe outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in history. At the onset of the outbreak—as now—there were no therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for prevention of, post-exposure prophylaxis against, or treatment of EVD. As a result, the outbreak spurred interest in developing novel treatments, sparked calls to use experimental interventions in the field, and highlighted challenges to the standard approach to FDA approval of new drugs. Although the outbreak was geographically centered in West Africa, it showcased FDA's global role in drug development, approval, and access. FDA's response to EVD highlights the panoply of agency powers and demonstrates the flexibility of FDA's regulatory framework. This paper evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of FDA's response and makes policy recommendations regarding how FDA should respond to new and re-emerging public health threats. In particular, it argues that greater emphasis should be placed on drug development in interoutbreak periods and on assuring access to approved products. The current pandemic of Zika virus infection is but one example of an emerging health threat that will require FDA involvement in order to achieve a successful response.

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fda health law policy pharmaceuticals public health