The cinematic story of the Ebola vaccine

January 8, 2020
Breaking news this morning: 215 biopharma CEOs and industry leaders signed a new commitment to patients to ensure access to medicines and "act with the highest integrity and corporate responsibility." We'll take a closer look tomorrow so stay tuned. In the meantime,…

Breaking news this morning: 215 biopharma CEOs and industry leaders signed a new commitment to patients to ensure access to medicines and "act with the highest integrity and corporate responsibility." We'll take a closer look tomorrow so stay tuned.

In the meantime, today, we've got the details on the Ebola vaccine—and how policy could thwart future vaccines like it—as well as new food labeling requirements, in 793 words, which you can read in just under 4 minutes.

The cinematic story of the Ebola vaccine

The story of how the Ebola vaccine went from the lab to rapid clinical trial in the midst of a catastrophic outbreak in West Africa to approval is ready for Steven Spielberg, as STAT writes it—but it’s also a startling reminder of how policy could thwart progress on future cures.

The news: On December 21, 2019, the FDA approved BIO member Merck’s Ebola vaccine, Ervebo, following clinical trials during the recent outbreaks in West Africa, reported NBC News

It’s a story made for the big screen: STAT takes you from the labs where passionate scientists were unable to get funding when Ebola wasn’t considered a major threat in the 1990s, to the researcher who pricked her finger and got the first untested vaccine in 2005, to the World Health Organization’s initial rejection of the vaccine when the outbreak started in Guinea in 2013 to, eventually, the trials in the field as the disease ravaged West Africa.

And it’s a startling reminder of the difficulty of developing new vaccines: “The reality was that, for years, scientists who studied Ebola…had poured their hearts into work to develop vaccines and drugs to combat these deadly scourges. And for years, they had seen promising work smash up against unscalable walls. There was no potential for drug makers to recoup development costs; and, with outbreaks only sporadic, there was little opportunity to subject experimental vaccines to rigorous tests.” 

But biopharma stepped up when WHO accepted the vaccine and needed a partner for the trial: Merck purchased the license for $50 million and oversaw the trials that led to the approval and saved thousands of lives.

But this extraordinary science and investment might be impossible in the future. If policymakers enact drug price controls that threaten the research pipeline and the biopharmaceutical economy, we’ll miss out on potentially dozens of new cures in the next two decades—perhaps even the next groundbreaking vaccine.

For more on how proposed policies could threaten the next Ebola vaccine, visit


More Health Care News: 

Pew: More Americans now see ‘very high’ preventive health benefits from measles vaccine
“An overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (88%) say the benefits of the MMR vaccine outweigh the risks…while the share who consider its preventive health benefits to be ‘very high’ has grown by 11 percentage points.” 

Reuters: More than a third of U.S. healthcare costs go to bureaucracy
More than one-third of health care costs in the United States in 2017 were due to “insurance company overhead and provider time spent on billing,” totaling more than $800 billion, or nearly $2,500 per person.


Industry’s hungry for details on new food labeling requirements

New U.S. labeling requirements for bioengineered food went into effect on January 1, but the industry’s still waiting for implementation instructions, reports Agri-Pulse—which are critically important in the era of misinformation about genetically modified food. 

The law: The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard requires food manufacturers, importers, and companies labeling food for retail to disclose information about bioengineered (BE) food and ingredients—but the USDA still needs to provide instructions on what, exactly, needs to be disclosed and how. 

The deadline: The law went into effect on January 1, 2020, for large and medium-sized companies, but compliance isn’t mandatory until January 1, 2022—so companies have two years to figure out what to do, explains Agri-Pulse.

The next steps: USDA is accepting comments through January 16 on instructions on validating a refining process, but has not yet released instructions on testing methods to determine whether a product contains “detectable levels of BE genetic material” and companies’ disclosure options.

Why it matters: Bioengineered food is safe and, in some cases, tastier, healthier, and better able to withstand pests and climate change—but as more food manufacturers comply with the law, there’s likely to be an onslaught of misinformation about it. We’ll be working to educate the public and policymakers about biotechnology in food as the process plays out. 

Get more information on the law at

BIO Beltway Report

President Trump’s Wednesday: Not much on the public agenda today other than his intelligence briefing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is moving forward on the impeachment trial without the Democrats, POLITICO reports, so expect tweets about impeachment as well as Iran and Iraq.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: The House and Senate are in session. Following yesterday’s Senate Finance markup of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said no floor vote until after the impeachment trial, contrary to White House trade adviser Peter Navarro’s prediction it would be done by the end of the week. Meanwhile, CNBC reports Grassley is seeking an unlikely ally for support for his drug pricing bill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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