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Experimental drug cures monkeys infected with Ebola

A new animal study has helped scientists provide a deeper insight into an effective treatment drug that may help fight the Ebola outbreak.

A leading US Ebola researcher from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has gone on record stating that a blend of three monoclonal antibodies can completely protect monkeys against a lethal dose of the Ebola virus up to five days after infection, a time when the disease is severe.

Thomas Geisbert, professor of microbiology and immunology, has written an editorial discussing advances in Ebola treatment research. The filoviruses known as Ebola virus and Marburg virus are among the most deadly of pathogens, with fatality rates of up to 90%.

The new study from Qui and colleagues at MAPP Biopharmaceutical Inc. used ZMAPP to treat monkeys given a lethal dose of Ebola. All the animals survived and did not show any evidence of the virus in their systems 21 days after infection, even after receiving the treatment five days after infection. They also showed that ZMAPP inhibits replication of the Ebola virus in cell culture.

ZMAPP has been used to treat several patients on compassionate grounds. Of these, two US healthcare workers have recovered, although it is unknown whether ZMAPP had any effect as 45% of patients in this outbreak survive without treatment. There were also two patients treated with ZMAPP who did not survive, but this might be because the treatment began too late in the course of the disease.

Geisbert said that antibody therapies and several other strategies should be included in the arsenal of interventions for controlling future Ebola outbreaks and although ZMAPP in particular has been administered for compassionate use, the next crucial step would be to formally assess its safety and effectiveness.

The study is published on the Nature journal’s website.

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