Ebola research takes ‘big step’ towards effective treatment: WHO

A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Centre on July 15, 2019 in Goma. (PAMELA TULIZO/AFP/Getty Images)

Two experimental Ebola treatments appear to be saving lives, according to preliminary results from a clinical trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Researchers, who were testing four separate treatments for Ebola as part of the PALM clinical trial, said Monday that they had stopped the study — not because it wasn’t working, but because two of the treatments were working so well: REGN-EB3 and mAb114.

All future patients in associated trials will now be given one of those two treatments, as they were deemed to give patients a greater chance of survival.

Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum, director-general of Congo’s Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale — which was one of the organizations involved in the trial — said that this was a “tremendous advance” in Ebola virus disease research and means that the disease is now treatable.

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In a statement, the World Health Organization said that while this was a big advance, it’s premature to say there is a cure for Ebola.

Researchers will continue to study the efficacy of the two remaining treatments.

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Normally, about half of the people who catch Ebola die, according to the World Health Organization. In this outbreak, mortality is closer to 67 per cent, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, which was also involved in the trial.

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The study compared three treatments to ZMapp, an older therapy that had been shown to have some effect. According to the preliminary results, 48 per cent of people treated with ZMapp died, Fauci said.

Comparatively, only about 29 per cent of people who were treated with REGN-EB3 died. The mortality for patients treated with mAb114 was 34 per cent. Patients who received treatment early were even more likely to survive.

“I think it’s important and I think everyone should hear this, that these are preliminary results,” said Fauci. The numbers could still change based on further data, he added.

But still, he’s optimistic about the findings.

“It means that we do have now what looks like treatments for a disease, which, not too long ago, we really had no therapeutic approach at all,” he said.

“So now we feel that with agents such as these, together with standard of care, that we may be able to improve the survival of people with Ebola.”

As of Aug. 9, 2019, 681 patients were enrolled in the study. It was stopped based on preliminary results from 499 participants.

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In the current outbreak in the DRC, 2,816 people have been infected and 1,888 people have died. The World Health Organization recently declared the outbreak a health emergency of international concern.

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