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.
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.
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.
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.
This isn’t available now but it’s made by immunizing animals or people and then purifying and concentrating their blood plasma.
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.
Made by North Carolina-based BioCryst, it’s been tested in mice and is being tested in monkeys now.
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.
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.
First published September 4 2014, 1:13 PM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBC News and TODAY, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.