Two of the four experimental Ebola drugs being tested in Congo appear to be saving lives, international health officials said today.
Preliminary findings prompted the early cessation of a major drug study and a decision to prioritize their use in the African country, where a one-year outbreak killed more than 1,800 people.
The early results signify "some very good news," said Dr. Anthony Shoach of the US National Institutes of Health, which helped fund the study. With these drugs, "we may be able to improve the survival of people with Ebola."
The two drugs – one developed by Regeron Pharmaceuticals and the other by NIF researchers – are antibodies that work to block the virus.
While research has shown that there is an effective, albeit experimental, Ebola vaccine – now used in Congo – no study has signaled which of the several potential treatments were best to try after people fell ill. During the West African Ebola outbreak a few years ago, studies showed that another mixture of antibodies called ZMap worked, but no clear evidence.
So, with the current outbreak in Congo, researchers compared ZMapp with three other drugs – a regeneranone compound, NIH called mAb114, and an antiviral drug called remedivir.
Last week, independent study guides looked at the first few hundred patients in the Congo study – and found enough difference to call at the start of the trial. The panel found that the Regeneran compound clearly works better than the others, and the NIH antibody does not lag behind, Fauschi explained. Next, the researchers will conduct a further study to determine how well these two compounds work.
The data are preliminary, Chauci said. But in the study, significantly fewer people died in those taking Regeneron or NIH – about 30% compared to half receiving ZMapp. Surprisingly, when patients sought care early – before too much virus was in the bloodstream – mortality was only 6% with Regeron and 11% with NIF compound, compared with about 24% for ZMap, he said.
Among people who have no concern for the current outbreak, about three-quarters of them die, said Dr. Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization.
All Ebola treatment units in Congo have access to both drugs, he added, saying he hopes the news will persuade more patients to seek care – as soon as symptoms appear.
Dealing with Congolese outbreaks is also complicated by the conflict in the region and because many people do not believe Ebola is real and choose to stay home when they are ill, which is driving the spread of the virus.
"Giving people quicker care is absolutely important," Ryan said. "The fact that we now have very clear evidence of the effectiveness of the drugs, we need to send that message to the communities."
Fouchi said Regeneran and Reilbek Biotherapeutics, which licensed the NIH complex, said authorities had sufficient doses readily available.
One problem researchers will need to analyze is: Occasionally, people receiving the Ebola vaccine still get sick, including some in the treatment study, which raises the question of whether their prior protection inflates drug survival numbers.