Major breakthrough in clinical trials of anti-EBOLA drugs

Ebola health workers July 2019

Health workers wearing protective gear check on a patient isolated in a plastic cube at an Ebola treatment centre in Beni, Congo.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc said on Monday its experimental treatment for Ebola proved superior to a rival therapy from Mapp Biopharmaceutical at preventing death, in a trial evaluating four treatments for infections caused by the deadly virus.

"From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable", said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director general of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's National Institute for Biomedical Research, the study's other co-sponsor.

After a meeting on Friday to review the initial results, an independent monitoring board recommended all future patients be offered either REGN-EB3 and mAb114, while the other two treatments be stopped.

The current Ebola outbreak is now considered the second largest in history, killing at least 1,800 people. After the results are finalized, an Expanded Access Phase will be initiated using the lead therapeutic from the trial.

The World Health Organization designated it a "public health emergency of worldwide concern" last month. Almost 29% of the patients who were given REGN-EB3 died, whereas close to 34% of the patients who were treated with mAb114 faced death.

In comparison, two-third of the patients who got remdesivir and almost three-fourth on ZMapp survived.

The decision to drop two of the trial drugs was based on data from nearly 500 patients, he said, which showed that those who got REGN-EB3 or mAb114 "had a greater chance of survival compared to those participants in the other two arms".

What impact could the drugs have?

"The more we learn about these two treatments. the closer we can get to turning Ebola from a terrifying disease to one that is preventable and treatable", he added in a statement.

"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".

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 NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said.

How serious is the DR Congo outbreak?

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".

In July, the WHO declared the Ebola crisis in the country a "public health emergency of global concern".

The vaccine has already been tested on more than 6,000 people in Europe, the United States, and Africa, and has proved safe, though demonstration of its efficacy in humans is still lacking as it has not been used in the context of an outbreak.

The response to the epidemic has been hampered by violence, including attacks on humanitarian and medical personnel, prompting the UN Security Council to call "for an immediate cessation of hostilities by all armed groups" earlier this month.

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