FRIDAY, Aug. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental Ebola
drug previously given to two American aid workers successfully
cured a group of monkeys infected with the deadly virus in
laboratory tests, researchers report.
The drug, ZMapp, prompted recovery in all 18 monkeys who
received it, even if they didn't get the medication until five days
ZMapp even cured monkeys with advanced cases of Ebola who were
days or even hours away from death, said study senior author Gary
Kobinger, chief of special pathogens for the Public Health Agency
"The level of improvement was beyond my own expectations," Kobinger said, noting that the drug cleared the liver damage, excessive bleeding and horrible rashes that are the hallmarks of Ebola infection.
This study provides some scientific evidence for the
effectiveness of ZMapp, which aid workers Dr. Kent Brantly and
Nancy Writebol both received under "compassionate use" guidelines
after contracting Ebola while in Liberia fighting the current
outbreak in West Africa.
Brantly and Writebol successfully fended off the virus. They
were flown home for treatment in the United States, and last week
were released from hospital care in Atlanta.
The results of the monkey trial were published Aug. 29 in the
Because Brantly and Writebol were given ZMapp outside of a
clinical trial, physicians and public health officials have been
reluctant to fully credit the drug with their recovery. Further
clouding the picture, a Liberian doctor and a Spanish priest
subsequently died from Ebola despite receiving the drug.
"We hope that initial safety testing in humans will be undertaken soon, preferably within the next few months, to enable the compassionate use of ZMapp as soon as possible," the researchers concluded in their paper.
The West Africa outbreak is the largest ever for Ebola, with
3,069 infected and 1,552 dead. The World Health Organization (WHO)
estimates that more than 20,000 people could become infected before
the end of the outbreak.
In the face of this health-care crisis, a WHO expert panel ruled
earlier this month that it would be ethical to treat Ebola patients
with experimental medications like ZMapp.
"Given the severity of this condition and the fact that there's nothing else available, this is as good as it gets," Dr. Ambreen Khalil, an infectious disease specialist with Staten Island University Hospital in New York City, said of the results from the ZMapp monkey trial. "Our focus should be now on the people who are rapidly dying in Africa. In those patients, ZMapp should be used, based on this study."
ZMapp is a cocktail of three laboratory-produced antibodies,
which have been derived from two previous antibody cocktails for
Ebola, Kobinger said.
In the study, researchers infected 21 rhesus monkeys with an
Ebola strain similar to the one raging through West Africa. Then
they administered ZMapp to 18 of the monkeys starting on days
three, four or five after infection. The monkeys received three
doses of the drug at three-day intervals.
All 18 animals treated with ZMapp survived, regardless of how
sick they had become. The three monkeys not treated with ZMapp all
died by day eight.
Because the Ebola virus strain used to infect monkeys in this
experiment is different to the strain in the current West African
outbreak, the researchers also performed lab tests that showed that
ZMapp does bind to the new virus strain and would likely be as
effective against it, Kobinger said.
ZMapp is the only experimental treatment that has been deployed
against Ebola during this outbreak, but others could be on the
The U.S. National Institutes of Health and drug manufacturer
GlaxoSmithKline are expected to announce that they are starting the
first human trials of a potential Ebola vaccine,
NBC Newsreported Wednesday.
For more on the Ebola virus, visit the
for Disease Control and Prevention.
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