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$4.1M Fed Grant Addition Could Put BioCryst In Ebola Fight -- Maybe Next Time, That Is


It was not only a $4.1 million influx of additional federal research money to Durham drug development company BioCryst Pharmaceuticals.

It was also a valuable reminder of the tough slog involved in medical progress.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) just added the money to a $22 million, five-year grant made a year ago, to help propel one of the company’s lead drug candidates. It’s code-named BCX4430 – an injectable liquid that‘s seen as a possible treatment or cure for hemorrhagic fevers caused by viruses, such as Ebola.

It’s tempting to think BioCryst might have the club that could beat down the frightening disease that’s producing daily headlines out of West Africa. So far it’s believed to have infected more than 2,100 people in 2014 and killed 1,145 in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. But this Ebola outbreak will most likely be history by the time BCX4430 becomes a useful clinical weapon.

NC, 'Bama Teams At Work

BioCryst has about 25 employees at its North Carolina headquarters and about 15 in R&D facilities at its former Birmingham, Ala., home. They’re working feverishly – pun intended – to do the painstaking studies all drugs need to prove safety and effectiveness.

The grant addition means the National Institutes of Health specialists at their NIAID section like what they see so far from BioCryst. But the drug hasn’t even been tested to see if it’s safe in humans. If the next few years of testing prove it safe AND effective, everybody wins – when a future hemorrhagic fever outbreak comes along.

'Emphasizes the Urgent Need'

"The ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa emphasizes the urgent need for safe and effective antiviral agents for hemorrhagic fever virus diseases,” said William "Bill" Sheridan, MB BS, chief medical officer at BioCryst, in announcing the extended grant funding.

“With these additional funds, BioCryst can move forward with important non-human primate efficacy studies, an IND filing, and Phase 1 human trials of intramuscular BCX4430. We look forward to the body of evidence supporting BCX4430 evolving into a highly compelling package, enabling us to attract U.S. government advanced development funding. This is critical so that a new drug application can be filed as quickly as feasible for this unique, broad-spectrum antiviral."

Government Funding Necessary

Developing any new drug is an agonizingly slow and expensive process. And it has traditionally been especially so if that drug’s main target is a disease affecting poor people halfway around the world. They don’t have money and they don’t have insurance.

Fortunately, there’s still some government funding available to keep drug development going when the traditional economic incentives fail.

It’s becoming increasingly dangerous for the world to shrug at localized disease outbreaks. That includes you and me -- average citizens -- as well as leaders of governments and of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s no longer safe to say “It won’t happen here. Not in my backyard.”

Global travel and communications have shrunk the backyard to the size of a postage stamp. Remember those? Fortunately, the folks at BioCryst do. So they keep working, hoping to have a drug ready to stop the next of these ugly viral surges.

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