Gates Foundation backs Ebola trials for plasma-based and other treatments

Ebolavirus under an electron microscope--Courtesy of CDC

Blood from Ebola patients who have survived infection has been used to treat patients actively fighting the virus. Now the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is backing efforts to test the efficacy of and scale up the production of convalescent plasma and other potential treatments in the field.

Most attempts at therapy with Ebola survivors' blood have simply transfused whole blood into a sick patient. But the research aims to determine the best way to collect relevant antibodies in blood plasma via plasmapheresis, then returning the remainder to the survivor. This will allow for more frequent donation, every two weeks versus the three-month downtime currently advised for Ebola survivors after whole blood donation by the World Health Organization.

As part of the effort, several med tech companies and others are donating technology and equipment. These include two mobile blood donation units from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation; advisory services and plasmapheresis equipment and supplies from Haemonetics; an i-Stat hand-held blood analyzer system from Abbott ($ABT); IV equipment and supplies from B. Braun Medical; a BD Vacutainer collection tube and blood transfer supplies from Becton Dickinson ($BD); advisory services and the Intercept pathogen inactivation blood system from Cerus ($CERS); mobile donation equipment and supplies from Helmer Scientific; and medical supplies from Welch Allyn.

Several drug candidates will also be evaluated, including the antiviral brincidofovir from Chimerix ($CMRX).

The Gates Foundation has committed $5.7 million to launch the effort. Specific trial designs and locations will be coordinated with national health authorities in Guinea and other Ebola-infected countries, as well as with the WHO. Earlier this month, the Gates Foundation committed to donating more than half a billion dollars to fight infectious diseases in developing countries. That's in addition to $50 million it committed in September specifically to fight Ebola infections.

Cerus' Intercept Blood System

"We are committed to working with Ebola-affected countries to rapidly identify and scale up potential lifesaving treatments for Ebola," Dr. Papa Salif Sow, a senior program officer and infectious diseases expert with the foundation's Global Health Program, said in a statement. "The Gates Foundation is focusing its R&D investments on treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines that we believe could be quickly produced and delivered to those who need them if they demonstrate efficacy in stopping the disease."

The foundation has committed $5.7 million to launch the effort, and specific trial designs and locations will be confirmed in coordination with national health authorities and the World Health Organization.

The Gates Foundation expects that convalescent plasma treated with pathogen inactivation technology could result in an effective treatment. The plasma will be collected via mobile donation units equipped with the Haemonetics PCS2 plasma collection system and the Cerus Intercept pathogen inactivation system.

- here is the release
- and here is coverage from Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times

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