(Adds additional Ansell comment, Australia context)
By Byron Kaye and Swati Pandey
SYDNEY, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Australian biotech firm CSL Ltd , the world’s second-biggest blood products maker, said on Friday it’s working on a plasma product to treat Ebola following a request from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, part of a growing commercial response to the deadly outbreak.
The Australian government has faced criticism from political opponents for refusing to send medical personnel to West Africa where Ebola has killed nearly 4,500 people and for donating just A$18 million ($15.7 million) to help fight the worst outbreak of the disease since the 1970s.
But the country’s private sector has been stepping up its involvement in what is slowly becoming a coordinated global response of governments, non-governmental organisations and private companies.
CSL spokeswoman Sharon McHale told Reuters that the charity of Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates asked it to “explore if we can develop a plasma product for Ebola treatment”.
Under the process being proposed by CSL, blood plasma would be collected from people who have recovered from Ebola. Scientists would then extract antibodies from the plasma to produce a “hyper-immune” product to be transfused into patients, said McHale.
“We’re hopeful of being able to help but it’s still early days,” she said.
Along with CSL, Sydney-listed protective products maker Ansell Ltd, the world’s largest surgical gloves maker, said it is talking to health authorities about supplying virus-killing gloves in the fight against the disease.
Ansell is talking with the organisations like the United Nations, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about using its antimicrobial surgical gloves in non-medical applications like the cleanup of potential Ebola-affected areas, chief executive officer Magnus Nicolin told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The Ansell antimicrobial surgical gloves cannot be used to treat Ebola patients because they have not yet been tested against that disease, and are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for surgical purposes, he added.
“What we can do in the U.S. is in non-patient related activity, sanitation, janitorial cleaning out an aircraft after a flight,” Nicolin said.
“We haven’t been able to test it with live Ebola because you’re not allowed to play around with a live Ebola virus, but we do know that it’s fully effective against similar viruses,” he said.
“While these gloves are approved for patient use in Europe, Australia and Canada, we continue to make the relevant organisations and authorities aware of these solutions as a way to offer an added level of protection.”
Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has said the country cannot send health workers to Ebola-affected parts of West Africa because there are no procedures in place to evacuate them.
Several of the country’s hospitals have activated their communicable disease units so they can immediately follow international Ebola treatment guidelines if the disease is detected locally.
1 US dollar = 1.1443 Australian dollar Editing by Kenneth Maxwell