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HHS spends $12 million on new Ebola drug

The drug, BCX4430, delivers a small molecule into the body that in studies showed to be effective in blocking the Ebola virus from reproducing.

Ebola virusEbola virus

North Carolina drug manufacturer BioCryst Pharmaceuticals has scored $12 million from the federal government to support development and manufacturing of its experimental anti-Ebola drug, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Tuesday.

The development is expected to last 18 months, but the contract could be extended through August 2017. If extended, the contract could be worth $35 million, HHS said.

The drug is BCX4430, which delivers a small molecule into the body that in studies showed to be effective in blocking the Ebola virus from reproducing. It can also block viruses including Marburg virus, which is in the same family as Ebola, which suggests the drug could be used as a broad-spectrum antiviral treatment.

[Also: The CFO and Ebola]

The drug is still in the early stages of safety studies before moving on to clinical trials.

While testing is underway, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will work with BioCryst to ramp up its manufacturing processes so it can hopefully churn out thousands of BCX4430 pills once they pass clinical trials.

As of March 22, there have been 24,907 cases of Ebola worldwide in this recent outbreak, and 10,326 deaths, with the bulk of cases in the African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In the United States there have been four cases and one death, according to the World Health Organization.

[Also: See which states got most Ebola funding]

BCX4430 is not the only anti-Ebola drug BARDA is supporting, though it is the first small-molecule drug. BARDA is also backing an experimental monoclonal antibody cocktail called ZMapp that is being developed by Mapp Biopharmaceuticals, as well as experimental vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline, BioProtection Services/NewLink Genetics, and Profectus BioSciences.

If any of these proves safe, the agency could order the medicines to be added to U.S. stockpiles.

Twitter: @HenryPowderly