Monday August 26, 2019

Two of Four Experimental Ebola Drugs Tests in Congo Saving Lives

The preliminary findings prompted an early halt to a major study on the drugs and a decision to prioritize their use in the African country

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Ebola, Drugs, Congo
FILE - Health workers wearing protective gear check on a patient isolated in a plastic cube at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo, July 13, 2019. VOA

Two of four experimental Ebola drugs being tested in Congo seem to be saving lives, international health authorities announced Monday.

The preliminary findings prompted an early halt to a major study on the drugs and a decision to prioritize their use in the African country, where a yearlong outbreak has killed more than 1,800 people.

The early results mark “some very good news,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. 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 Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and the other by NIH researchers — are antibodies that work by blocking the virus.

Ebola, Drugs, Congo
FILE – A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Center in Goma, July 15, 2019. VOA

While research shows there is an effective albeit experimental vaccine against Ebola — one now being used in Congo — no studies have signaled which of several potential treatments were best to try once people became sick. During the West Africa Ebola epidemic several years ago, studies showed a hint that another antibody mixture named ZMapp worked, but not clear proof.

So with the current outbreak in Congo, researchers compared ZMapp to three other drugs — Regeneron’s compound, the NIH’s called mAb114 and an antiviral drug named remdesivir.

On Friday, independent study monitors reviewed how the first several hundred patients in the Congo study were faring — and found enough difference to call an early halt to the trial. The panel determined that the Regeneron compound clearly was working better than the rest, and the NIH antibody wasn’t far behind, Fauci explained. Next, researchers will do further study to nail down how well those two compounds work.

The data is preliminary, Fauci stressed. But in the study, significantly fewer people died among those given the Regeneron drug or the NIH’s — about 30% compared to half who received ZMapp. More striking, when patients sought care early — before too much virus was in their bloodstream — mortality was just 6% with the Regeneron drug and 11% with the NIH compound, compared to about 24% for ZMapp, he said.

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Among people who receive no care in the current outbreak, about three-fourths die, said Dr. Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization. All of Congo’s Ebola treatment units have access to the two drugs, he added, saying he was hopeful that the news would persuade more patients to seek care — as soon as symptoms appear.

Quick care ‘vital’

Tackling Congo’s outbreak has been complicated both by conflict in the region and because many people don’t believe Ebola is real and choose to stay at home when they’re sick, which spurs spread of the virus.

“Getting people into care more quickly is absolutely vital,” Ryan said. “The fact that we have very clear evidence now on the effectiveness of the drugs, we need to get that message out to communities.”

Ebola, Drugs, Congo
Two of four experimental Ebola drugs being tested in Congo seem to be saving lives, international health authorities announced Monday. Pixabay

Fauci said Regeneron and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, which has licensed the NIH compound, told authorities enough doses are readily available.

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One issue researchers will have to analyze: Occasionally people who receive the Ebola vaccine still become sick, including some in the treatment study, which raises the question of whether their earlier protection inflated the drugs’ survival numbers. (VOA)

Next Story

Deadly Ebola Virus Spreads to New Areas in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

The World Health Organization said Friday that the deadly Ebola virus had spread to new areas in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Ebola, Virus, DRC
FILE - An ambulance waits next to a clinic to transport a suspected Ebola patient, in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Aug. 5, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization said Friday that the deadly Ebola virus had spread to new areas in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The number of cases was 2,934, including 1,965 deaths, it said.

Since mid-June, the WHO has reported an average of 80 new Ebola cases every week. It said, though, that these numbers have been falling in recent weeks.

Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said two new health zones, Mwenga in South Kivu and Pinga in North Kivu, had reported cases in the past week, and that the risk of further spread remained high.

“The geographic extension of the virus has increased while the intensity of transmission has reduced in that time,” he said. “So we are winning against the virus in the intense transmission areas, but still failing to prevent the further extension of the virus into other areas before the disease is properly extinguished.”

Ebola, Virus, DRC
The World Health Organization said Friday that the deadly Ebola virus had spread to new areas in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pixabay

Ryan noted progress in containing the disease was being made in some areas. He said some powerful tools were being put to good use in tackling the disease. He said a vaccine now is available that is protecting people from becoming infected, which wasn’t the case in previous outbreaks.  Also, two new therapeutics are successfully saving the lives of people with Ebola who seek early treatment.

Community mistrust

But Ryan said pockets of community mistrust continued to hinder efforts to stop the epidemic. He said negative social media campaigns that have spread false information were creating difficulties in gaining community confidence.

He said, for instance, that some messages have said the vaccine is used to infect people, not protect them, and treatments are used to finish victims off.  “And there are WhatsApp groups and many social media conversations that are going on at that level,” he said. “And populations, like in every country in the world, are exposed to both the positive and negative media around any intervention like this.”

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Ryan said WHO must be smarter, quicker and more effective in getting communities to hear its messages about pathways to good health. He said the way to counter bad information is not by blocking it, but by putting out good information. Then, he said, it is up to the communities to choose the messages they believe will best ensure their own future. (VOA)