Outbreaks like Ebola will happen again: NIH director

As the Ebola epidemic continues to grow and drug companies scramble to test vaccines, one of the top U.S. health officials warned that outbreaks like Ebola will happen again.

"We can't be surprised when these outbreaks occur. The best prevention, the best protection we have is medical research," director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, said during an interview from FasterCures' Partnering for Cures conference.

His comments came after news that a second person in the United States died from the disease on Monday. Dr. Martin Salia, a native of Sierra Leone and a permanent U.S. resident, was already suffering from advanced symptoms of Ebola when he arrived at a Nebraska hospital Saturday.

So far, the current outbreak has killed more than 5,000 people.

File photo: A young man, dressed in a biohazard costume, stands on the corner of 546 West 147th Street in October 2014 in New York City after an American doctor carrying the ebola virus was admitted to Bellevue Hospital
Bryan Thomas | Getty Images
File photo: A young man, dressed in a biohazard costume, stands on the corner of 546 West 147th Street in October 2014 in New York City after an American doctor carrying the ebola virus was admitted to Bellevue Hospital

Read MoreRobots to the rescue in fight against Ebola

Drug companies are fast tracking the development of vaccines, which Collins believes would have been available by now if funding hadn't been cut.

Over the past 10 years, the NIH has lost about 25 percent of its purchasing power thanks to a drop in investment in biomedical research, he told CNBC's "Street Signs."

"NIH has been working on an Ebola vaccine way back in the mid-1990s but all of this process takes time, takes resources. Here we are now in a circumstance where the vaccine is desperately needed," Collins added.

The good news, however, is that things are now moving at an "incredibly rapid pace," he said, with phase two and three trials of vaccines expected in West Africa by the first of the year.

Read MoreGoogle to double every gift in its Ebola campaign

Mike Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute and its FasterCures center, pointed out that the No. 1 driver of economic growth in the world has been medical research and public health.

"The world has changed. Life expectancy in a generation has increased by 50 percent in sub-Sahara Africa and 7 of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in sub-Sahara Africa," said Milken.

"When we think about what the solutions are, they lie here in the biosciences."

Read MoreObama wants $6.2 billion for Ebola: Officials

Collins agreed that the issue is not only about health but also economics.

"If we want to see the United States continue to lead the world in biotechnology and all of the spinoffs that come out of that, it takes those investments," he said.

"There's an ecosystem between public and private. It's been the envy of the world. The world is trying to copy what the U.S. has been doing for decades. Meanwhile we seem to have lost some of our own momentum. We need to get that back."

—Reuters contributed to this report.