Health August 14, 2019
Ebola is no longer incurable, breakthrough drug trial in the DRC finds

By Fabian Sutch-Daggett - World Healthcare Journal

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the Ebola virus has been wreaking havoc for over a year. Last August, the government of the DRC confirmed an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the north-eastern regions.

Since then, the disease has continued to spread, infecting other regions in the DRC, resulting in the deaths of more than 1800 people. This outbreak has been growing precipitously, becoming the second-largest Ebola epidemic the world has yet seen.

Ebola is a highly deadly disease. The average Ebola case fatality rate is around 50 per cent – these figures have been as high as 90 per cent in some outbreaks.

However, outbreaks like these may soon be a thing of the past.

In a new, highly promising drug trial which has been ongoing since November, two drugs have proved highly effective against the virus.

Of the four drugs tested (three antibody cocktails and one antiviral treatment) two of them – known as REGN-EB3, developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in New York, and mAb114, which is now being developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in Miami, proved so effective that the trial could be stopped early to make the treatments available for widespread use.

In the 41 per cent of participants who sought treatment early after infection and had a lower load of the Ebola virus in their blood, the two treatments were incredibly effective: survival rate was 94% with REGN-EB3, and 89 per cent with mAb114.

However, outcomes are still poor for patients with a high viral load in later stages of the disease. Even with the most effective treatment, REGN-EB3, 29 per cent of patients in later stages of the disease died.

In an extension of the clinical trial, each of the four treatment centres providing the four drug tests will now be reduced to REGN-EB3 and mAb114. Patients in other DRC treatment centres will also be eligible to receive one of the two treatments which is possible thanks to a WHO initiative called Monitored Emergency Use of Unregistered and Investigational Interventions.

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) hailed the breakthrough as "very good news" in the battle against Ebola, and a progression towards better outcomes for Ebola patients.

However, these treatments alone will not provide the breakthrough needed for the potential eradication of the disease – nor may that ever be possible, say some healthcare leaders.

“I think the news today is fantastic. It gives us a new tool in our toolbox against Ebola,” says Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

“But it doesn’t stop Ebola. What will stop Ebola is good surveillance, good infection prevention and control, good community engagement, excellent vaccinations, and the use of these therapeutics in the most effective way possible. ”

Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, a global health research charity, believes the treatments would "undoubtedly save lives" and that the study is an important breakthrough in moving towards making Ebola a “preventable and treatable” disease.

"We won't ever get rid of Ebola but we should be able to stop these outbreaks from turning into major national and regional epidemics," he says.

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