The Most Dangerous Emerging Disease Is Drug Resistance

‘The Most Dangerous Emerging Disease Is Drug Resistance’ says  Epidemics Expert Jeremy Farrar

British medical expert Jeremy Farrar is a key figure in the fight against Ebola and other infectious diseases. In a SPIEGEL interview, he says that the development of vaccines is key because drug-resistant viruses and bacteria pose immense dangers.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Farrar, the Wellcome Trust has an endowment of around €22 billion and provides close to €880 million to support scientific and humanities research and public engagement each year. What is it like to be the master of so much money?

Farrar: (laughs) Well that sounds more powerful, than it is. I am not involved in every detail of every decision. Whether a grant application or research project will be supported or not is determined by an internal and external panel of experts. But of course I wouldn’t have accepted the job if I didn’t believe that the Wellcome Trust could help to change the world.

SPIEGEL: Currently, you are investing around €15 million in Ebola projects, approximately €5 million of that is for the development of Ebola vaccines. Already at the beginning of August, when hardly anyone thought seriously about this possibility, you argued for the use of experimental vaccines in this epidemic. Was that not risky?

Farrar: We do not live in the 19th century. We live in the 21st century. We have to use all the resources available to us, including those of modern science, to stop this epidemic. I think it is possible that this epidemic will continue well into the second half of 2015. If we had a safe and effective vaccine, this could play a major role. Not to mention in future epidemics.

SPIEGEL: You think there will be more outbreaks in the future?

Farrar: Yes, future epidemics are inevitable. There remains a big reservoir of the Ebola virus in animals, probably in primates and forest-living bats. Occasionally, when humans come into contact with those animals, they will get infected. The biggest worry I would have is that, as the virus spreads more widely, it could become established in domesticated animals in rats or in bats that live very close to lots of people in huge cities. So there could be more outbreaks of Ebola in in these big urban centers. To have a vaccine then would be crucial.

SPIEGEL: Is it possible to completely eradicate such an infectious disease?

Farrar: It is possible for some infectious diseases, such as smallpox, but not in an infection that has an animal reservoir like Ebola. Moreover, eradication is only possible with a vaccine. With other interventions — drugs or behavior change, for example — this is impossible.

for the rest of the interview please visit THE SPIEGEL.

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