A new Ebola drug grown from special tobacco plants has been shown to cure monkeys that were already displaying signs of infection by the viral hemorrhagic fever, the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday.
Other Ebola countermeasures have been shown to work on infected animals before they start displaying symptoms of the highly virulent and lethal disease. However, this is the first time a drug has demonstrated any effectiveness after signs of the virus have manifested. That is regarded as a crucial capability in the event of a real-life disease epidemic, according to virologist Gene Olinger, who works at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md.
"We've pushed the opportunity to treat people to the point where they walk in and say, 'I have a fever,'" said Olinger, co-author of a report on the new Ebola drug published by the Science Translational Medicine journal on Wednesday. "A lot of folks in the field would have thought protecting an animal at the time of fever and viremia is too late to have a clinical benefit."
Ebola is one of the most deadly and contagious diseases known to exist in nature. The lack of adequate vaccines and antidotes for the disease have made it a serious worry for biodefense specialists concerned about its possible applications as a biological weapon.
In the recent study, seven infected rhesus monkeys were administered the experimental treatment MB-003 through their veins once every three days. Three of the monkeys did not die, resulting in a statistically notable success rate of 43 percent.
Fort Detrick scientist and lead study author James Pettitt said it is probable that in a real-life outbreak, the drug would be administered at a higher dosage and with greater frequency.
"We think we'll get better results," the researcher said.
Growing the drug from specially developed tobacco leaves is not only less costly than conventional cell-based methods, but also allows for large batches of the drug to be produced on fairly short, weeklong schedules, according to the Times article.
Olinger said further measures will be taken to improve MB-003 by adding to it more Ebola antibodies that were discovered by a different group of researchers.