There is an Ebola vaccine that is 100 percent effective on monkeys. It has sat on a shelf, untested and unavailable to humans, for nearly a decade, while thousands of Africans died of the virus, because drug research is expensive and who's gonna pay Big Pharma for all that risk? Dying Africans? It's market economics, people.

Denis Grady of the New York Times has the story about a possibly miraculous anti-Ebola drug that's suddenly really hot among pharmaceutical companies, now that Westerners care about a deadly viral illness identified in a Congolese river region almost 40 years ago now.

Based on V.S.V., a virus known to give cows a mouth disease but generally harmless in people, the vaccine—developed by Canadian and U.S. researchers—appears not only to inoculate monkeys against Ebola, but also to prevent the disease in animals who have already been heavily exposed to it.

Developers expected that all the requisite tests could be run to get the vaccine to market "by 2010 or 2011." But testing just started a couple of minutes ago, because a decade's worth of monkeys may carry lots of viruses, but they don't carry gold cards or Aetna:

... [E]xperts also acknowledge that the absence of follow-up on such a promising candidate reflects a broader failure to produce medicines and vaccines for diseases that afflict poor countries. Most drug companies have resisted spending the enormous sums needed to develop products useful mostly to countries with little ability to pay...

"There's never been a big market for Ebola vaccines," said Thomas W. Geisbert, an Ebola expert here at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and one of the developers of the vaccine that worked so well in monkeys. "So big pharma, who are they going to sell it to?" Dr. Geisbert added: "It takes a crisis sometimes to get people talking. 'O.K. We've got to do something here.' "

Dr. James E. Crowe Jr., the director of a vaccine research center at Vanderbilt University, said that academic researchers who developed a prototype drug or vaccine that worked in animals often encountered a "biotech valley of death" in which no drug company would help them cross the finish line.

To that point, the research may have cost a few million dollars, but tests in humans and scaling up production can cost hundreds of millions, and bringing a new vaccine all the way to market typically costs $1 billion to $1.5 billion, Dr. Crowe said. "Who's going to pay for that?" he asked. "People invest in order to get money back."

Don't forget: The free market is the solution to any health crisis [that happens to people with money]!

[Photo credit: AP Images]