Drug for Ebola may work on humans

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A new study provides strong evidence that the experimental drug given to two American aid workers stricken with Ebola in Africa really works and could make a difference in the current outbreak - if more of it could be produced.

In the study, all 18 monkeys exposed to a lethal dose of Ebola virus survived when given the drug, known as ZMapp, even when the treatment was started five days after infection, when the animals were already sick. Moreover, the monkeys’ symptoms, such as excessive bleeding, rashes and signs of liver toxicity, eventually disappeared. By contrast, all three monkeys in the control group died. 

Experts said these were the best monkey results reported to date for any Ebola drug, raising hopes that the drug will work in humans.

“I think it strongly supports that concept,” Dr Gary P Kobinger, the senior author of the study, said, in a telephone news conference, shortly before the paper was published by the journal Nature. Still, Kobinger, a researcher for the Public Health Agency of Canada, cautioned that effectiveness in monkeys was not “proof” that a drug would work in people.

The problem is that the supply of ZMapp is exhausted, and it is expected to take months to make more of the drug. Nonetheless, there has been a clamour for the drug and an ethical debate about entitlement to treatment courses available. 

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