Gates Foundation adds $50M to help speed Ebola drug development efforts

As government health agencies and industry players ramp up efforts to bring experimental therapies as quickly as possible to people affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said Wednesday that it is putting up $50 million to aid drug development and outbreak response efforts.

That money will be distributed to public and private sector partners to advance the development of therapies, vaccines and diagnostics that could be effective in treating patients and containing the spread of the disease, the organization said.

The death toll of the current outbreak has now topped 2,288 people, according to a Sept. 8 update from the World Health Organization.

The rest of the funds will be split among United Nations agencies and international organizations involved in the Ebola response to help countries purchase supplies and scale up emergency operations in those that have been hit hard by the virus, like Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The initial announcement from the foundation didn't offer specifics as to which organizations will be receiving funds.

While the grant will provide much-needed resources to various international stakeholders responding to the Ebola outbreak, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the $600 million that the United Nations said it would take to get the ongoing epidemic under control. The U.S. has spent just over $100 million in efforts to help control the disease, which WHO warns could cause as many as 20,000 infections as it runs its course.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is beginning a Phase I clinical trial of its Ebola vaccine in healthy people this month with the help of the National Institutes of Health. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), along with partner Bavarian Nordic, is also rushing toward a vaccine, with plans to launch clinical trials at the beginning of 2015. And Mapp Biopharmaceutical's investigational Ebola drug ZMapp is getting a $24.9 million boost from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to help speed development and manufacturing of the treatment.

- read the statement from the Gates Foundation