Scientists were a step closer to an effective treatment for Ebola after they found two drugs in a clinical trial that significantly boost survival rates.
The study began last November in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, they halted its current phase, switching all future patients over to the treatments that showed positive results. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said this in a statement.
REGN-EB3 and mAb114 “are the first drugs that, in a scientifically sound study, have clearly shown a significant diminution in mortality for people with Ebola virus disease,” Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told AFP.
The patients receiving two other drugs being discontinued, Zmapp and remdesivir, will now have the option at the discretion of their treating physician to receive the treatments that have been shown to work.
Fauci explained that the trial was designed to include 725 people, but was halted by an independent board when it had enrolled 681 people because at that point, one of the drugs, REGN-EB3 by Regeneron, reached a critical threshold in success, while mAb114 was not far behind.
Data has so far been analysed for 499 people from the cohort of 681.
In this group, mortality dropped to 29% with REGN-EB3 and with mAb114 it fell to 34%, said Fauci. This compares to a rate of between 60% and 67% in the general population when a drug does not treat the disease.
The rates for Zmapp and remdesivir were 49% and 53% respectively.
REGN-EB3, mAb114 and Zmapp are monoclonal antibodies that bind to glycoprotein on the Ebola virus and neutralize its ability to infect other cells.
Fauci added that the final analysis of the data, including the patients not yet processed, would occur in late September or early October, after which the complete results would be submitted for publication in the peer-reviewed medical literature.
The NIH, Democratic Republic of Congo health authorities and the World Health Organization hailed them. They said the “extraordinary team of individuals who have worked under extremely difficult conditions to carry out this study,” as well as the patients and their families.
Asides drugs, Ebola vaccine still key
Jeremy Farrar, director of Britain’s Wellcome Trust research charity, said the development would “undoubtedly save lives”. He added,
“Thanks to this trial, we are starting to understand which treatments to offer to patients in this and future outbreaks.”
More than 1,800 people have died in the eastern DRC since Ebola broke out there in August 2018.
The virus transmits to people from wild animals, according to the World Health Organization. It then spreads among humans through direct contact with the blood or other secretions of infected people. It can also spread on surfaces contaminated with their fluids.
The latest trial demonstrates “you can dramatically diminish the mortality,” said Fauci. “But getting rid of the Ebola virus becomes a (case of) prevention, of how you could prevent this from spreading.”
“The best way to end the outbreak is with a good vaccine, as well as to do good contact tracing, isolation, and then, ultimately, treatment.”
Health authorities are currently investigating several vaccine candidates.