Novartis cancer drugs stymie deadly Ebola virus

A pair of Novartis ($NVS) leukemia drugs effectively attacked the highly lethal Ebola virus in lab tests, providing clues about what it might take to finally march forward with a treatment against the killer bug.

NIH researchers tested the Swiss drug giant's blood cancer remedies--Gleevec and Tasigna--in lab dishes containing cells infected with Ebola, showing that the drugs were able to block the spread of viral particles from the cells, Bloomberg reported. It turns out that a force behind reproduction of the virus is a tyrosine kinase known as c-Abl1, a close relative of Bcr-Abl, a protein that both Gleevec and Tasigna block.

Bloomberg reported that sales of the two Novartis drugs brought in $5.45 billion in sales last year.

"Drugs that target [the release of viral particles] would be expected to reduce the spread of infection, giving the immune system time to control the infection," the study authors wrote, as quoted by Pakistan's International News Network. "Our results suggest that short-term administration of [Tasigna] or [Gleevec] may be useful in treating Ebola virus infections."

Tasigna stymied reproduction of the virus by 10,000-fold, the news service reported, but researchers say that new drugs could be designed to target c-Abl1 specifically. That could be good news for victims of Ebola, which triggers hemorrhagic fevers that cause bleeding and eventually death in 9 out of 10 victims, according to the International News Network's article on the findings.   

The NIH has been a big supporter of repurposing existing drugs to fight new diseases, sometimes ones very different than the original ailment for which the drug was developed. Repurposing drugs is expected to benefit from scientists' deeper understanding of the mechanisms and genes involved in diseases.

- check out the Bloomberg report
- and the International News Network's article