Tuesday November 19, 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

0
//
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.

Also Read- Trump Administration Significantly Weakens U.S. Endangered Species Act

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.

Also Read- Amazon Launches its Marketplace Appstore in India

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

Congo: Volatile Security Situation Stymies Efforts to End Ebola

The World Health Organization says the number of Ebola cases has decreased and stabilized over the past few weeks.

0
Congo, Security, Ebola
Patients waiting for prescriptions to be filled by the hospital pharmacy sit underneath a sign warning about the symptoms of Ebola, at Kibogora district hospital, near Lake Kivu and close to the border with Congo, in western Rwanda, Nov. 4, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization says that dangers posed by armed groups in two eastern Democratic Republic of Congo provinces are impeding progress in the battle to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.  Latest reports put the number of confirmed Ebola cases at 3,287, including 2,193 deaths.

International health workers have achieved a lot since the Ebola epidemic in eastern Congo was declared in August 2018. The World Health Organization says the number of Ebola cases has decreased and stabilized over the past few weeks.

While that is encouraging, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier says “we are not out of the woods yet.”

“The risk of re-introduction of Ebola into former hotspots remains high and is…contingent on the level of access and security in these communities,” Lindmeier siad. “So, the outbreak has been and is occurring in an extremely complex environment, marked by poor infrastructure, political instability, as you heard, community mistrust of national authorities and outsiders and ongoing conflict involving scores of armed…militia groups.”

Congo, Security, Ebola
International health workers have achieved a lot since the Ebola epidemic in eastern Congo was declared in August 2018. Pixabay

Despite a recent decrease in the number of security incidents, attacks on health care workers and facilities remain unacceptably high.  From January to October, the WHO has documented more than 300 attacks, causing five deaths and 70 injuries of health care workers and patients.

And, last week, a health care worker was killed in his home and his wife critically injured.

The DRC has always been an area of high mobility. The armed conflict in the region has caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.   But people move around for other reasons as well. Lindmeier tells VOA among those on the move are infected people who could spread the virus.

“Because they were moving, we cannot be too optimistic about ending this soon,” Lindmeier siad. “As I said in the beginning, the weekly number of cases have stabilized over the past few weeks, but we are not, definitely not out of the woods yet and should not cry victory…before we are at the end of this.”

Also Read- Arctic Blast Spreads Shivers from Maine to Deep South

The WHO notes Ebola hotspots have shifted from urban areas to more rural, hard-to-reach communities.  It says that, plus the extremely volatile security situation, creates additional challenges in hunting down the virus. (VOA)