Experimental Ebola drug trials to begin in west Africa

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Three trials of experimental Ebola drugs will begin next month at treatment centres run by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in west Africa.

Volunteer doctors will conduct the trials, which are unprecedented because they are being run during an epidemic. In addition, the drugs will not have been through the conventional clinical trials process before being given to people who are sick and will not compare one group of people receiving the drug with another group of people who do not.

This unconventional and speedy approach has been adopted in the hope that the drugs will cut the 70% death rate in west Africa from the disease.

MSF and its partners, including academics, pharmaceutical companies and the World Health Organisation, have agreed to run two trials in Guinea. One of these trials will investigate the use of blood products from people who have survived Ebola. Oxford University scientists will lead a third trial, funded by the Wellcome Trust.  

Zmapp, the drug given to some of the foreign health workers who were infected earlier in the epidemic, is not among those being trialled at this stage due to the amount of time that it takes to produce.

Oxford University scientists will test the antiviral drug brincidofovir in pill form on up to 140 patients. 

The French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) will lead a trial in Guéckédou, Guinea investigating a second antiviral drug, favipiravir. 

The third trial will take place in Conakry, Guinea, and will look at the effect of giving patients blood and plasma containing antibodies from people who have recovered from the disease. It will be led by the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM).

Dr Annick Antierens of MSF said: “This is an unprecedented international partnership which represents hope for patients to finally get a real treatment against a disease that today kills between 50 and 80% of those infected.

“As one of the principal providers of medical care to Ebola patients in West Africa, MSF is taking part in these accelerated clinical trials to give people affected by the current outbreak a better chance of survival.”