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Operations Management Issues in Ebola Drugs

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                Operations management issues in Ebola drugs

        The 2014 Ebola epidemic has been the largest in history, affecting countries in West Africa. That has left many Americans in fear of the virus, and wondering why we don’t have the technology to create vaccinations against the virus, or antibodies to fight it off. There are several reasons why there is no medication to fight or prevent Ebola.

                When it comes to Ebola, and who is charge of the response, it seems as if there is not one particular agency in charge, but many different agencies were working on the same thing with dismal results.  After the Anthrax scare, the Department of Health and Human Services launched a parallel program to that of the Pentagon, combating potential bioterror threats. Both the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services are federal entities, however neither program was talking or working with the other program. A lack of centralized oversight was not only costly, but it was also a waste in efforts, neither accomplished what was needed: drugs. While the Department of Health and Human Services was funded for lab work, no ideas ever went beyond those bounds.  They never received enough money to actually produce drugs, or even intro trials. Had the research been centralized to one federal entity, it may have stood a chance of completion, however there is no one department in charge of creating drugs for the disease. The issue has basically bounced back and forth within more than 5 different organizations in the past several decades.

        Another problem is the lack of demand from outside pharmaceutical companies. The big pharmaceutical companies will only produce a drug if the market potential pulls it forward. At the time, Ebola was considered a rare, tropical disease, therefore the demand for treatment was negligible. If  that demand is negligible, no for profit organization will spend billions of dollars to fund the drug. Therefore, the process must start and complete in the federal government, who has a vested interest in treating the disease.

        It’s well known that sometimes the U.S. government is not effective at tackling issues quickly. While we have the technology for ZMapp antibody in the pipeline, the medication that was given to the two American doctors that contracted the illness in Africa, it has not gone through clinical trials. The organization that funded the project, NIAID, only funded basic research.

        In fact, technology for the ZMapp has been around for a few decades. The treatment went to the Pentagon in 2010 and it sat there for two years waiting for a contract. It was sent to the Pentagon for a few reasons, lack of funding and because the U.S. handed it’s defensive drug making over to the Pentagon, and Ebola falls in the category of biological threat agents. The process selection took entirely too long. It should not have sat dormant for so many years, just because the disease wasn’t a high profile case yet. The FDA also struggles in timeliness in the advanced development of drugs. That stage is often referred to as the “valley of death.”  

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