, PARIS, France Apr 22 – An experimental drug saved the lives of monkeys infected with the Ebola virus strain responsible for the current west African outbreak, according to test results published Wednesday.
It was the first trial in primates with a treatment specifically targeting the Makona strain of the haemorrhagic virus that kills both humans and monkeys, its developers said.
The results, which are being reported for the first time, have already been used as preclinical validation for tests in patients, which started in Sierra Leone this year.
The first results from those human trials with the drug, TKM-Ebola-Guinea, are expected in the second half of 2015, study author Thomas Geisbert of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, told AFP.
For the animal testing, Geisbert and a team infected six rhesus monkeys with the Makona strain of the Zaire species of the Ebola virus that has killed over 10,700 out of some 25,800 people infected in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since late 2013.
The specialists then treated three of the monkeys with their specially adapted, strain specific version of TKM Ebola an experimental treatment that has been given to Western health care workers who contracted the disease in Africa, but whose efficacy in humans has not yet been proven.
The monkeys treated with TKM Ebola Guinea were still healthy when the trial ended after 28 days, said the team.
The three not given the drug died within eight or nine days of infection.
“This is the first study to show post-exposure protection against the new Makona outbreak strain of Ebola Zaire virus,” Geisbert said.
There is no approved treatment or vaccine for Ebola, and most drugs being developed are based on previously detected strains of the virus which has caused several outbreaks since 1976.
The UN’s World Health Organization gave the green light last August for experimental drugs to be used in the current outbreak, the deadliest in history by far.
Several drug candidates are being fast-tracked through the normally years-long trial process, and while many have shown promise, it was not known if they would work against the Makona strain specifically.
The new drug gets its name from Ebola-Guinea, the initial title given to the Makona strain.
The drug, said its makers, can be adapted to different strains, and can be produced in eight weeks.
TKM-Ebola works by blocking certain genes of the virus, thereby halting its replication.