Vaccine for Ebola closer as experimental drug ‘protects against ALL strains of the killer virus’

By | January 10, 2019

Vaccine for Ebola moves closer as experimental drug is found to ‘protect against ALL strains of the killer virus’ and reverse symptoms as deadly outbreak rages on in Africa

  • Scientists said the drug could continue to protect people even as Ebola evolves
  • The efficiency could relieve burden on the frontline health care workers   
  • Many drugs are under trial as the virus spreads, killing at least 377 

A drug that protects against every strain of the Ebola virus has been developed by scientists who say it has the potential to save thousands of lives.

No cure currently exists for the pathogen – considered one of the most lethal to have ever been discovered.

But tests have shown a new antibody cocktail can protect animals from the killer virus as a vaccine and reverse symptoms once they have taken hold.

It targets all forms of Ebola known to harm humans, including the deadliest strain behind an ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Researchers hope the experimental drug could control the virus from taking more lives in the African nation, with the death toll standing at least 377.

A drug developed by The University of Texas Medical Branch 'protects against every strain of the Ebola virus' has the potential to save thousands of lives. Pictured, a vaccine being prepared in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the outbreak is spreading

A drug developed by The University of Texas Medical Branch ‘protects against every strain of the Ebola virus’ has the potential to save thousands of lives. Pictured, a vaccine being prepared in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the outbreak is spreading

Dr Thomas Geisbert, the world-renowned Ebola researcher behind trials of the potential medication, said it could continue to protect even if the virus evolves.

The DRC outbreak, known to be the second most deadly outbreak in history, is expected to rage on into the middle of this year, experts on the ground have warned.

The outbreak has been difficult to control because of armed violence and community protests.

Currently, experimental vaccines are only capable of targeting one strain at a time, said Dr Geisbert, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas.

Of the five ebola viruses known to infect humans, the Zaire, Sudan and Bundibugyo strain are known to have caused the most fatalities.

The team of scientists were keen to abandon the ‘one bug, one drug’ approach.

They made a two-antibody cocktail, called MBP134, that would work against the unpredictable nature of Ebola.

Dr Geisbert told MailOnline: ‘Three of these species are medically important and have been associated with outbreaks in Africa and caused death in humans.

‘MP134 targets all three of these species.’

This suggests, he said, ‘that it will continue to protect people if the Ebola viruses evolve over time’.

The vaccine was tested on animals with promising results, which were published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

Monkeys and ferrets were fully protected against a lethal Ebola virus infection, and sickness was even reversed once they had begun to take hold.

‘MP134 was developed primarily to treat people already infected with Ebola,’ Dr Geisbert said. ‘Our data suggests MBP134 can likely save a lot of people already infected with Ebola.’

The monkeys gradually got better and were perfectly healthy at the end of the study a few weeks later.

‘We were able to protect the nonhuman primates against all the Ebola species plaguing people at a single low dose ,’ said Larry Zeitlin, study author and president of Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc – responsible for the research of ZMapp, a vaccine that was used in the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

‘Further studies exploring even lower doses could open the door to treatment via auto-injectors like the kind used for allergic reactions,’ he said.

The drug offers hope for health workers at the forefront of the epidemic, who have been the victims of ongoing conflict.

Mr Zeitlin said: ‘The ability to quickly and efficiently provide protection against all Ebola viruses in a single dose would reduce the burden on health care workers in the field during outbreaks, especially in regions that have a less-developed infrastructure.’

It is difficult to say when the drug, manufactured by Mapp and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), could become available, but it is hoped to come into effect within the next few years or sooner.

The Zaire strain also caused the 2014 West African Ebola epidemic, in which 11,000 people died worldwide.

The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.

Currently four experimental drugs are being used to try and combat the disease – mAb 114, ZMapp, Remdesivir and Regeneron – in a real-time study to assess how well pioneering drugs are working.

Patients will get one of the four, but researchers will not know which they were given until after the study.

The World Health Organization is urging a vaccine manufacturer to make more in a bid to try and control the spread, as deaths accelerate in numbers.

WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?

Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.

That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.

The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.

Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.

WHERE DID IT BEGIN? 

An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.

Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN? 

WHICH COUNTRIES WERE STRUCK DOWN BY EBOLA DURING THE 2014-16 EPIDEMIC? (CDC figures)
COUNTRY                                                CASES  DEATHS DEATH RATE (%) 
GUINEA 3,814 2,544 66.7%
SIERRA LEONE  14,124  3,956  28.0% 
LIBERIA  10,678  4,810  45.0% 
NIGERIA  20  40.0% 
SENEGAL  N/A 
SPAIN  N/A 
US  25.0% 
MALI  75.0%
UK  N/A
ITALY  N/A 

Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.

Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.

Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola. 

Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.

HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS? 

Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.

It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.

IS THERE A TREATMENT? 

The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.

Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal. 


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