Hope emerges in the Ebola virus epidemic as new treatment options start clinical trials in West Africa. The trials are being conducted by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and will test three available treatments on current Ebola sufferers in Liberia and Guinea.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola has killed over 5,000 people and infected over 14,000. The virus has a 50 to 80 percent mortality rate. Liberia is the most affected although it is experiencing reduced infection rates. Unfortunately, new hotspots emerge every day and make the disease difficult to monitor and control. President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, recently lifted the state of emergency for the country’s “very survival” and is reaching out to the international community for support in defeating the epidemic.
Current trials involve the testing of two anti-viral drugs and one treatment using blood plasma from Ebola survivors. The drug trials include testing brincidofovir, which is produced in the U.S. by Chimerix, and favipiravir, manufactured by the Japanese firm Fujifilm. A third trial will test using blood plasma taken from those who survived infection as a means of introducing antibodies into infected patients. Unlike most treatment trials in epidemics, there will be no placebo groups.
Cooperation is the highlight of this effort as many international entities unite to start widespread clinical trials in West Africa and hopefully, develop effective treatment and a vaccine for the Ebola virus. The University of Oxford will lead one clinical trial in Liberia while the French National Institute of Health and Medicine Research and the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine will lead the additional trials in Guinea. WHO and each country’s health authorities are also offering their assistance in these trials.
The U.S. is also examining how to lend assistance in this crisis. The Senate Appropriations Committee is considering an aid request to help control Ebola. The request includes $4.64 billion to fight the epidemic in West Africa while also preparing a plan in case of an epidemic in the U.S. Part of the requested aid funds would help support the current trials in West Africa.
Plans to set up procedures and systems in surrounding countries to protect vulnerable populations and contain the spread are also being considered in this aid package. The U.S. military is currently building 17 treatment centers with one currently completed. Education efforts, including emphasis on hand washing and handling infected people, are also being endorsed as a means of containment.
The results of these trials are expected next year around February or March. Meanwhile, MSF encourages drug manufacturers to increase their production as avoiding a gap between success and mass treatment is essential to reducing or even eliminating the Ebola virus.
Dr. Annick Antierens, who coordinates MSF efforts in West Africa, celebrates optimism about effective Ebola virus treatments arising from clinical trials starting soon. There is, however, some caution too from Dr. Antierens, who said, “We need to keep in mind that there is no guarantee that these therapies will be the miracle cure. But we need to do all we can to try the products available today to increase the chances of finding an effective treatment.”
By: Jocelyn S. Mackie
Main Photo by Bryan Christensen – Flickr License
Feature Photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall, Jr. – Flickr License