Scientists hail promise of first effective Ebola treatments

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Scientists have said they are a step closer to finding the first effective treatments for the Ebola virus after two potential drugs showed survival rates of as much as 90 percent in a clinical trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ebola has been spreading in eastern DRC since August 2018 in an outbreak that has now become the second largest [File:Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Two experimental drugs – Regeneron’s REGN-EB3 and a monoclonal antibody called mAb114 – were both developed using antibodies harvested from survivors of Ebola infection.

They showed better results in patients in a trial of four potential treatments being conducted during the world’s second-largest Ebola outbreak in history, now entering its second year in the DRC.

“Moving forward, these are the only drugs that future patients will be treated with,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement released on Monday.

The drugs improved survival rates from the disease more than two other treatments being tested – ZMapp, made by Mapp Biopharmaceutical, and Remdesivir, produced by Gilead Sciences.

The trial, which started in November last year, is being carried out by an international research group coordinated by the WHO.

Anthony Fauci, one of the researchers co-leading the trial, and the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters in a telebriefing the results were “very good news” for the fight against Ebola.

“What this means is that we do now have what look like [two] treatments for a disease for which not long ago we really had no approach at all.”

Ebola has been spreading in eastern DRC since August 2018 in an outbreak that has so far killed at least 1,800 people. Efforts to control it have been hampered by militia violence, while emergency responders have struggled to win the cooperation of affected communities, many of which are deeply distrustful of the government and a roll-out of medical strategies – supervised by security forces – that have clashed with local customs.

A vast Ebola outbreak in West Africa became the world’s largest-ever when it spread through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from 2013 to 2016 and killed more than 11,300 people.

‘Fantastic news’

Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies programme, said the trial’s positive findings were encouraging but would not be enough on their own to bring the epidemic to an end.

“The news today is fantastic. It gives us a new tool in our toolbox against Ebola, but it will not in itself stop Ebola,” he told reporters.

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, also hailed the success of the trial’s findings, saying they would “undoubtedly save lives”.

“The more we learn about these two treatments … the closer we can get to turning Ebola from a terrifying disease to one that is preventable and treatable,” he added in a statement.

“We won’t ever get rid of Ebola but we should be able to stop these outbreaks from turning into major national and regional epidemics.”

Some 681 patients at four separate treatment centres in the DRC have already been enrolled in the treatment clinical trial, Fauci said. The study aims to enrol a total of 725.

Ebola infographic

The decision to drop two of the trial drugs was based on data from almost 500 patients, he said, which showed that those who got REGN-EB3 or mAb114 “had a greater chance of survival compared to those participants in the other two arms”.

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