LONDON, England, Friday January 9, 2015 – After more than 8,000 deaths in the world’s worst-ever outbreak of Ebola, experimental drugs, vaccines and blood products are being tested to combat the disease in its West African epicentre.
A trial of the antiviral drug brincidofovir has started at a Medecins Sans Frontieres centre in Liberia, where it is being tested on Ebola patients on a strictly voluntary basis.
Initial results of the trial are expected in the next few months, according to scientists from Britain’s
Oxford University who are leading the research.
The scientists say that brincidofovir was chosen because it is effective against Ebola-infected cells in laboratories, has been deemed safe in more than 1,000 patients in trials against other viruses and can be given conveniently as a tablet.
“Conducting clinical trials of investigational drugs in the midst of a humanitarian crisis is a new experience for us all, but we are determined not to fail the people of West Africa,” Professor Peter Horby, one of the chief investigators at Oxford University, told BBC News.
“We are trying a number of different approaches simultaneously as there is only a short window of opportunity to tackle this virus during the outbreak,” he added.
The researchers plan to recruit more than 100 people and will compare death rates at the medical charity’s centre before and after the trial.
Oxford University and the company Tekmira hope to establish a further study of a potential treatment designed to interrupt the genetic code of the virus called TKM-Ebola.
Meanwhile, a study involving favipiravir, a similar drug to brincidofovir, got underway in Guinea last month.
Favipiravir is being tested by the French National Institute of Health and is already used to treat influenza.
It is offered to all Ebola patients receiving care at the Medecins Sans Frontiere’s treatment centre in Gueckedou, Guinea, and results are expected in a few months’ time.
While some experimental drugs, including brincidofovir and favipiravir, have been administered on an ad hoc, compassionate basis in the last year, none has yet been proven to work against the virus in scientific human trials.
The current international thrust, involving the World Health Organization (WHO), MSF, drug companies, the Wellcome Trust, and other global health organisations, aims to fast-track treatments that have been identified as potential options to combat Ebola.
Other approaches include the use of blood plasma from patients who have recovered from the disease. Trials of this are underway in Guinea’s capital, led by the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine.
This treatment is also being given to the Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey in hospital in London after she contracted Ebola while serving as a volunteer health worker in Sierra Leone.
Meanwhile, trials involving three different vaccines designed to prevent people from contracting the virus are taking place in Mali, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and United States.