Follow The Money: How An Ebola Outbreak Would Make A Lot Of People Filthy Rich

by John Haltiwanger

The largest Ebola outbreak in history is currently occurring in West Africa. As of October 10, this vicious disease has killed 4,033 people. There is no cure, and people are frightened that it will spread across the globe.

On September 30, a Liberian national named Thomas Eric Duncan became the first individual to be diagnosed with Ebola within the United States. He died last week in Dallas, where he was being treated.

Unfortunately, Duncan also spread the disease to one of the Texas health workers who was treating him. This has raised concerns about the guidelines health officials are employing to prevent an outbreak in America.

The Root Of The Problem

It's important to maintain a balanced perspective when approaching this disease. Simply put, Ebola poses a much bigger threat to Africa than the United States. This does not mean that it should not be taken seriously, and precautions are certainly necessary.

Yet, in order to prevent a global outbreak, the disease must be combatted at the source of the problem, for both humane and pragmatic reasons. As there is still no cure for the disease, however, one wonders how this will be accomplished.

It's true that there are experimental drugs that have shown signs of success with some patients. Likewise, some argue that part of the reason Duncan died is that he received experimental drugs too late, or that perhaps it had to do with the type of drug he received.

Indeed, there has been a great deal of speculation over these experimental medications. Furthermore, it's apparent that some people are hoping to make a lot of money off these drugs in the event of the disease spreading even further.

Ebola Headlines Are Profitable For Pharmaceutical Companies

There are several experimental Ebola drugs available at the moment: ZMapp, Tekmira and other vaccines.

Thomas Eric Duncan was treated with something different called brincidofovir, developed by the company Chimerix. This drug is also being used to treat Ashoka Mukpo, the American cameraman in Nebraska who contracted Ebola in Liberia.

When it was announced that Ebola had arrived in the United States, stocks for several pharmaceutical companies developing drugs to treat the disease immediately rose sharply.

For example, Tekmira shares rose by more than 20 percent following the news. Additionally, Serepta Therapeutics and BioCryst Pharmaceuticals also saw big gains.

Profiting Off Panic

As the headlines continue to make people more fearful of Ebola, it seems that drug manufacturers could potentially make a great deal of money.

Correspondingly, as CNNMoney puts it:

The first confirmed Ebola case in the U.S. is fanning fears around the country, but it's also driving greed in some corners of the stock market.

Relatedly, in addition to pharmaceutical companies, companies like Lakeland Industries have also seen a rise in shares. Lakeland makes hazmat suits and other protective gear, which could prove useful in the event of a massive outbreak.

Hence, the more people panic about Ebola, the more these companies stand to gain, despite the fact that an outbreak is very unlikely in the United States.

In the improbable event that there is an outbreak outside of Africa, it's perceivable that companies like Tekmira would see astronomical profits. Fear often equals money.

Betting On A Cure

Anyone considering investing in companies like Tekmira and Chimerix should consider the fact that these companies are developing experimental drugs. Experimental is the key word here.

In essence, these drugs are unproven, and we aren't in a good position to assess if they are entirely safe or effective. There's a reason these drugs haven't been fully approved.

Thus, there's a great deal of risk when investing in companies developing these types of drugs, as it's all very speculative.

While it's true that Tekmira does have a $140 million contract with the US government to develop a cure for Ebola, there are other companies actively competing with it.

Not to mention, a lot of these companies have a limited supply of the drugs.

One might also argue that it's not exactly the most admirable or moral investment, as it's essentially like gambling with life and death.

Following the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, for example, shares fell for Chimerix and rose for Tekmira. As noted above, Chimerix has been developing the drug used to treat Duncan.

Moreover, as the Center for Disease Control contends:

The most effective way to stop the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is meticulous work in finding Ebola cases, isolating and caring for those patients, and tracing contacts to stop the chains of transmission. It means educating people... and having health care workers strictly follow infection control in hospitals. This is how all previous Ebola outbreaks have been stopped.

Simply put, we should all hope for a cure to be found in general, without hypothesizing and betting on which company will achieve this first. Likewise, it's important to learn the basic facts surrounding Ebola before jumping to conclusions and allowing panic to sink in.

Photo Courtesy: Red Cross