Scientists are a step closer to finding the first effective treatment for the deadly Ebola haemorrhagic fever after two potential drugs showed encouraging survival results in a clinical trial in DR Congo.
The experimental drugs – Regeneron’s REGN-EB3 and a monoclonal antibody called mAb114 – were developed using antibodies harvested from Ebola infection survivors.
They showed “clearly better” results in patients in a trial of four potential treatments conducted during the world’s second largest Ebola outbreak in history, now entering its second year in the central African country.
The drugs improved survival rates more than two other treatments being tested – ZMapp, made by Mapp Biopharmaceutical, and Remdesivir, made by Gilead Sciences – and those products will be now dropped, said Anthony Fauci, a researcher co-leading the trial.
Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters results were “good news” for the fight against Ebola.
“What this means is we now have what looks like two treatments for a disease for which not long ago we had no approach at all,” he said.
Ebola has been spreading in eastern Congo since August 2018 in an outbreak that has now killed at least 1,800 people. Efforts to control it are hampered by militia violence and local resistance to outside help.
A vast Ebola outbreak in West Africa become the world’s largest ever when it spread through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from 2013 to 2016 and killed more than 11,300 people.
The Congo treatment trial, which began last November, is carried out by an international research group co-ordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies programme, said the trial’s positive findings were encouraging but would not be enough on their own to end the epidemic.
“The news today is fantastic. It gives us a new tool against Ebola, but it will not in itself stop Ebola,” he told reporters.
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, hailed the trial findings, saying they would “undoubtedly save lives.”
“The more we learn about these treatments the closer we get to turning Ebola from a terrifying disease to one that is preventable and treatable,” he added in a statement.
“We won’t ever get rid of Ebola but we should be able to stop outbreaks turning into major national and regional epidemics.”
Some 681 patients at four separate treatment centres in Congo have enrolled in the Congo treatment clinical trial, Fauci said. The study aims to enrol 725 people in total.
The decision to drop two trial drugs was based on data from almost 500 patients, he said, which showed those who got REGN-EB3 or mAb114 “had a greater chance of survival compared to participants in the other two.”