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How Should Drug Trials Be Conducted In The Middle Of An Ebola Outbreak?

How Should Drug Trials Be Conducted In The Middle Of An Ebola Outbreak?

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Although U.S. troops are coming home from West Africa after aiding in the Ebola outbreak — the fight against the disease continues.

Tens of thousands of people have been infected with the potentially deadly disease, including four in the U.S. Concern ran so high last fall that President Barack Obama appointed an Ebola czar.

Health officials will soon begin clinical trials of an anti-Ebola drug, ZMapp, but they'll face ethical challenges.The drug was developed by the San Diego-based company Mapp Biopharmaceutical.

Michael Kalichman, co-founder and director of the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology at UC San Diego, said it can be ethically challenging for doctors to decide which patients will be given the anti-Ebola drug.

RELATED: San Diego Doctor Returns From Ebola Mission In Liberia

Kalichman said some patients will be given supportive care while others will be given ZMapp.

Photo credit: CD Murin, EO Saphire and AB Ward / The Scripps Research Institute

Pictured is the anti-Ebola drug ZMapp, developed in San Diego.

"What you want in a clinical trial is something to compare to," Kalichman told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. "One group gets Zmapp and the other gets the best supportive care. This is an example of how extraordinarily difficult a trial can be."

Kalichman, who is also the director of the Research Ethics Program at UC San Diego, said there are two possible outcomes from the clinical trial.

"One is that it works well. The other possibility is that it makes things worse, perhaps the disease itself is already worse," he said.

Jamal Gwathney, a doctor with the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service who worked in Liberia for nearly two months last year, said the number of new cases has decreased, but health officials have a goal of eliminating all cases.

"The cases are definitely significantly lower than when the epidemic started," said Gwathney, who is also the clinical director at the federal jail in downtown San Diego. "Sierra Leone is the hardest hit of Ebola right now. We're doing everything, trying to impact that and getting it down to zero."

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