Experimental Drugs Bring New Hope in ‘World’s Worst’ Ebola Outbreak

This week, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that at least 68 Ebola scares have been seen during the current outbreak across 27 states. The World Health Organization recently warned that the death toll had risen above 1200 worldwide before issuing a statement on August 18th noting that “Strengthened international cooperation is needed, and should support action to contain the virus, stop transmission to other countries and mitigate the effects in those affected”.

Ebola in West Africa

Ebola in West Africa : Image Courtesy: European Commission DG ECHO
@ Flickr CC-BY-ND All rights held under licence

In this spirit of international cooperation, researchers working with the Canadian company, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals released findings on Wednesdays showing that their experimental new drug successfully protected monkeys from a lethal dose of the Marburg virus, considered related to Ebola in the scientific community. Both the Marburg virus and Ebola are known to have a mortality rate of over 90%.

As part of the trial a group of macaques were given a high dose of the virulent Marburg virus. Even after the virus was present in the monkeys’ blood, researchers were able to turn things around by administering the experimental drug.


Two macaques warming each other : Image courtesy Tambako @ Flickr CC-BY-ND All rights held under licence

Specialists at the University of Oxford, such as Oliver Brady, an epidemiologist, today reported that, after assessing the situation, “this demand is likely to be higher than many people realize” and the experimental drugs may be needed for up to 30,000 cases globally.

Meanwhile, one controversial new drug, ZMapp has already been used on high-profile American aid workers and news is just now breaking that one of the affected, Dr Kent Brantly of Texas, will shortly be released after a swift recovery. With plans underway to discharge the other international aid workers, the drug’s success is attracting a furore of media attention. Medical staff have considered the recovery of these cases ‘remarkable’.


Ebola in West Africa : Image Courtesy: European Commission DG ECHO @ Flickr CC-BY-ND All rights held under licence

While concerns have been raised about using highly experimental drugs and the difficulty of understanding their full effects at such short notice, the World Health Organization this week gave the green light to their use and governments in both Nigeria and Liberia have ordered supplies of the new drugs, including Nano Silver and ZMapp.


Logo of the World Health Organization : Image Courtesy: US Mission GenevaFlickr CC-BY-ND All rights held under licence

The results, so far, in both human and animal cases have sparked speculation that one of the new drugs being trialled might have life-changing potential in the African states struggling with the Ebola virus. The world waits to see how the crisis will pan out over the coming weeks.