A World Health Organization, WHO, panel of medical ethics experts ruled on Tuesday that it was ethical to offer unproven drugs or vaccines to people infected with or are at risk of the Ebola virus.
The panel however stressed that the drugs should also be properly tested in the best possible clinical trials, before administration.
It explained that the approval comes as a result of the fact that any provision of experimental Ebola medicines would require “informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community”.
The new outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa is the world’s largest and most deadly so far, and has killed over 900 people of the more than 1, 848 persons infected in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
The WHO has declared it an international health emergency.
“Ebola outbreaks can be contained using available interventions like early detection and isolation, contact tracing and monitoring, and adherence to rigorous procedures of infection control,” the panel said.
The ethics panel met to discuss whether various experimental drugs and vaccines being developed for Ebola might be used in the outbreak, despite not having been fully tested or licensed.
The meeting was called after experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, made by U.S. biotech company Mapp Biopharmaceutical, was given to two American health workers infected with Ebola in Liberia.
The scarce experimental drug, which a WHO spokeswoman said only 12 doses had been made, was due to be given to two Liberian doctors after U.S. authorities approved its export, Monrovia’s information minister said on Tuesday.
This would be the first time the treatment has been used on Africans, but the drug holds no guarantee of life.
The 75-year-old spanish priest who also received ZMapp has since died. He contracted Ebola in Liberia.
There are no licensed treatments or vaccines for Ebola. Apart from Mapp, several other biotech companies and research teams have been working on potential drugs.
Companies with possible treatments include Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, Biocryst Pharmaceuticals and Siga Technologies.
GlaxoSmithKline and U.S. scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases hope to start a clinical trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine as soon as next month, after promising test results in primates.
It would normally take many years to move such a vaccine through three phases of clinical testing but some officials have suggested emergency procedures could be put in place to make it available in 2015, assuming it works in the early test phase.
Another experimental vaccine from Johnson & Johnson’s Crucell unit should enter Phase I clinical trials in late 2015 or early 2016, while Profectus Biosciences is also working with U.S. scientists on another preclinical vaccine.