Congo approves 4 more experimental Ebola drugs to fight outbreak

Ebola virus
There are now 75 confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease, according to the Congolese health ministry. (CDC Global CC BY 2.0)

Soon after health authorities administered an NIH-developed antibody to Ebola patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country’s health ministry has approved another four experimental treatments to help contain the outbreak. These include ZMapp, which was used in the 2014-16 outbreak, and remdesivir, which is being developed by Gilead. 

Congolese health authorities started administering mAb114, a monoclonal antibody developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), on Aug. 11, Reuters reported. The treatment is based on an antibody found in the blood of a patient who had survived an earlier Ebola epidemic in Congo. The 10 patients treated with mAb114 all showed “positive evolution,” the health ministry said in a daily bulletin on Tuesday. Despite the encouraging results, the outbreak is still spreading. 

The ministry confirmed six new cases of Ebola and four new deaths from the hemorrhagic fever. This brings the total number of Ebola cases to 75, and the number of deaths to 59, 32 of which have been confirmed as Ebola. 

In addition to Gilead’s remdesivir and ZMapp, the Congolese health ministry also approved favipiravir, in phase 3 development at Japan’s Toyama Chemical, and another experimental med known as Regn3450 – 3471 – 3479. Remdesivir was first administered to a patient on Tuesday. 

Congo has had 10 outbreaks since the Ebola virus was discovered in northern Congo in 1976. The most widespread Ebola outbreak, spanning 2014 to 2016, hit hard in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with some cases in Mali, Nigeria and Senegal. That outbreak inspired several biotech and Big Pharma companies to race to get a vaccine to approval. But with that epidemic having come and gone, there still isn’t an approved vaccine against the disease. Merck had planned to file for regulatory approval in 2017, but had to postpone its plans by a year. Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline also have vaccine candidates in phase 3. 

As the 2014-16 epidemic wound down, the Zika virus outbreak ticked up. The World Health Organization declared the Ebola epidemic was no longer a global public health emergency and the Obama administration decided on diverting leftover funds from the "largely successful" fight against Ebola toward combating Zika. Experts warned in 2016 that complacency could lead companies into shelving their Ebola vaccine work without seeing a vaccine through to approval. 

"As Ebola infection rates come under control it's a huge concern that complacency sets in, attention moves to more immediate threats and Ebola vaccine development is left half-finished," said Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar at the time. 

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