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Ebola Virus Outbreak

Can Any Drug or Vaccine Stop Ebola? WHO Scours Globe

Image: Employees of the Public Health Agency of Canada working inside of the National Microbiology Laboratory's Level 4 lab.

Employees of the Public Health Agency of Canada working inside of the National Microbiology Laboratory's Level 4 lab. Public Health Agency of Canada

Which drugs or vaccines might work best against Ebola? The World Health Organization is reviewing what’s out there and is scheduled to report back Friday. WHO says it’s unlikely anything would be ready in amounts large enough to help the ongoing epidemic in West Africa, which has sickened more than 3,600 people and killed half of them. Early supportive care, including the replacement of lost fluids, gives patients the best chance of living. But a committee of experts is reviewing the possibilities anyway. Here’s a list of what they are looking at:

Plasma from survivors

This is the oldest and crudest treatment and it’s based on the theory that a survivor has mounted an effective and mature immune response to infection. It’s uncertain, however, how one person’s serum might help someone else and there’s always the risk of passing other infections.

ZMapp

This is the antibody-based treatment that survivors Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly received. Tests have shown it protects 100 percent of monkeys, but experts warn these results often do not translate to people. At least two patients who got ZMapp died anyway. It’s a cocktail of three genetically engineered antibodies aimed specifically at Ebola. Only a few hundred doses at most would be available any time soon.

Tekmira’s TKM-100802

This drug uses small bits of genetic material called siRNA that stops the virus from replicating. The Food and Drug Administration has OKed it for emergency use. “There is potential for the production of 900 courses by early 2015,” WHO says. Tests show it can protect monkeys from Ebola.

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AVI 7537

Made by Massachusetts-based Sarepta Therapeutics, this drug uses a different mechanism to latch onto the virus and stop it from replicating. It’s been shown to be safe in humans at low doses and monkey studies suggest it can raise survival to 80 percent if given very soon after infection. Only about 100 doses could become available before next year.

Hyperimmune globulin

This isn’t available now but it’s made by immunizing animals or people and then purifying and concentrating their blood plasma.

Favipivavir

Also known as T-705 or Avigan, this is a pill approved to treat influenza in Japan. Toyama Chemical, which makes it, has 10,000 doses available. Tests show it protects mice but not monkeys against Ebola.

BCX-4430

Made by North Carolina-based BioCryst, it’s been tested in mice and is being tested in monkeys now.

Interferon

These are proteins made by the body to fight off infection and are used to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis, come cancers and hepatitis. A monkey study shows one type delays death but doesn’t save them from Ebola.

Chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine

This vaccine started human trials just this week at the U.S. national institutes of Health. WHO says 15,000 does could be available by the end of the year.

rVSV vaccine

This vaccine has shown promising results in animals but hasn’t been tested in people. There are 800 doses available, and human trials are about to start.