Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, a company based in Vancouver, has announced some promising results with the development of a drug to combat the deadly Ebola virus that has taken more than 1,300 lives. The latest Ebola outbreak is believed to be the most devastating in the entire history of the disease.
Tekmira, along with the Department of Defense, has developed the TKM-Ebola. The TKM-Ebola is a lipid nanoparticle which interferes with the RNA to prohibit expression of the gene, resulting in the death of the cell.
The relatively new technique, known as RNA interference, or RNAi is believed to one of the most significant advances in modern biology for which the discoverers were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2006. It is used to assess and identify the genes that are active in certain diseases. Once the genes are identified, they can be blocked. The technology is also used to prohibit specific genes from expressing themselves and evaluating the responses to certain chemical stimuli.
According to recent reports published in the Science Translational Medicine journal, the drug offers hope for treating not only the Ebola Virus, but also its relative — the Marburg disease — for which it was originally developed. Both diseases display the same symptoms and the functioning mechanisms are similar.
The TKM-Ebola has been moved into Phase 1 clinical trials where tests are being conducted on healthy human beings. Earlier this year the trials were halted when adverse effects were experienced by healthy volunteers, but after the creation of a modified version, authorities allowed resumption. Tekmira Pharmaceuticals has noticed much progress in the attempts to combat the Ebola virus, even when the drug is administered in the later stages of infection.
While some of the drugs for Ebola and Marburg which are under development have been shown to be effective when administered to animals shortly after they were infected, one of the problems displayed with the current outbreak is that the infections are not readily detected until the person becomes ill. Symptoms may only show up to a week later, so there is need for drugs to combat diseases that are already developing.
Tekmira’s TKM-Ebola experimental drug appears to be moving in that direction. It has proven to be successful in tests conducted with animals where the virus was detected in the blood, even after three days of exposure. The researchers are planning more studies to determine whether the drug will be effective even if it is used in the later stages.
The study has led the FDA to modify the status of the drug to a “partial hold.” That designation means that testing can continue. The company is now considering whether the compound can be made available to combat the outbreak in West Africa. Experts have praised the study as an important advancement, but advise caution, because of the small sample size. 16 monkeys received the drug, and a 100 percent recovery was noted, even with those that were treated three days after they were infected.
The scientists had first believed that the damage done by proliferation of the virus in the later stage would be extensive enough to be irreparable, and the treatment would be ineffective. The leader of the study, Dr. Thomas Geisbert, who is also a professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Texas, told reporters that the five infected monkeys that were not treated were eventually euthanized after they became ill.
As companies such as Tekmira appear to make progress with drugs that may combat the Ebola virus, there are several governmental agencies in the U.S. that are issuing grants to smaller biotech companies involved with developing treatment or vaccines. The hope is that companies such as Profectus Biosciences and NewLink Genetics may soon report some successes in developing effective medicines to combat the Ebola virus.
By Dale Davidson