Influence Analytics: Ebola edition

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image of a curvilinear figure on a lilac background
Image of the Ebola virus (Credit: Centers for Disease Control)

Even as medical experts and pundits take to the airwaves and the Internet to argue that the threat posted by Ebola is far less than other exotic diseases such as the flu, a tour through Sunlight tools shows that talk about Ebola is proving contagious.

More talk: Although Congress recessed before the first case of Ebola was diagnosed on U.S. soil, mentions of the word “Ebola” spiked in September to more than 140, a record high. The last time the disease popped up in any substantive way was post-9/11, in the context of possible terrorist threats. At the time, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., argued how a last-minute, secretive provision in the legislation that would have excused pharmaceutical companies from liability in thimerasol lawsuits would help bolster vaccine manufacturers in their quest to create an Ebola vaccine: “[U]nless we can produce it and produce it quickly, the know-how does not do us any good because we are not going to be able to develop the vaccine to put in your arm and protect you from the Ebola virus,” said Frist. The provision in question — widely seen as favoring Eli Lilly — was later reversed. (Credit: Capitol Words.)

But will there be more action? National Institute of Health (NIH) officials blame the lack of a proven vaccine on funding cuts made by both Democrats and Republicans, rather than the liability concerns that Frist raised. Right before Congress took its pre-election campaign break, it approved $30 million in new funding for the Centers for Disease Control to combat Ebola; now members of Congress are scrambling to pull together more funding specifically for agencies such as NIH when they return after the election. (Credit: Scout.)

The search for cures. The North Carolina-based pharmaceutical company Chimerix announced this week that it has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to start phase II clinical trials for the drug Brincidofovir, which has been administered on an emergency basis to two of the Ebola patients treated in the U.S. Chimerix reported spending at least $1.3 million lobbying during the current two-year session of Congress. (Credit: Influence Explorer.)

Prepared? Who is prepared? Chimerix was one of a number of pharmaceutical companies that reported lobbying on the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act, which Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed in 2013. At the cost of estimated cost of $11 billion over five years, that law is supposed to provide the government the means to “advance national health security,” including $1.4 billion for a “hospital preparedness program.” The program, however, has been underfunded. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is pushing for increased funding. The Dallas hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian, that treated the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., Thomas Eric Duncan, has come under sharp scrutiny, as has the Centers for Disease Control, for its lack of preparation in dealing with the crisis. (Credit: Open Congress, Scout.)