A trial of a potential drug to treat Ebola has started at a Medecins Sans Frontieres centre in Liberia. The antiviral – brincidofovir – is being tested on Ebola patients on a voluntary basis. People who do not consent to it receive standard care. Oxford University scientists leading the research say initial results are expected in the next few months. A study involving a similar drug – favipiravir – began in Guinea in December.
We are trying a number of different approaches simultaneously as there is only a short window of opportunity to tackle this virus” Prof Peter Horby Oxford University. More than 8,000 people have died from Ebola during this outbreak, the majority in the worst-affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. While a handful of experimental drugs, including brincidofovir and favipiravir, have been given on an ad hoc, compassionate basis in the last year, none has yet been proven to work against the virus in scientific human trials.
A huge international effort – involving the World Health Organization, MSF, drug companies, the Wellcome Trust, and other global health organisations – aims to fast-track treatments that have been identified as potential options. Prof Peter Horby, one of the chief investigators at Oxford University, said: “Conducting clinical trials of investigational drugs in the midst of a humanitarian crisis is a new experience for us all, but we are determined not to fail the people of West Africa.
“We are trying a number of different approaches simultaneously as there is only a short window of opportunity to tackle this virus during the outbreak.” Blood tests are used to establish whether a patient has Ebola. Scientists at Oxford say brincidofovir was chosen because it is effective against Ebola-infected cells in laboratories, has been deemed safe in more than 1,000 patients in trials against other viruses and can be given conveniently as a tablet. Researchers aim to recruit more than 100 people and will compare death rates at the centre before and after the trial.