Ebola genome browser launched to aid drug discovery

The race to develop an effective vaccine or therapy against the ebolavirus is on, with companies large and small answering the World Health Organization's call to ramp up drug discovery efforts.

To aid in that goal, the University of California, Santa Cruz, has released a new, open-source Ebola genome browser with the aim of encouraging the sharing of information among scientists to get a drug or vaccine to those most affected by Ebola as well as those at risk of contracting the disease.

The Ebola virus browser aligns 5 strains of Ebola with two strains of the related Marburg virus, and within these strains, researchers have aligned 148 individual viral genomes, including 102 from the current West Africa outbreak.

Using these strains, scientists from anywhere in the world will be able to compare genetic changes in the virus genome and areas where it remains the same--clues that may help researchers at drug companies, other universities and government labs better design vaccines and antiserums that could help stop the ongoing outbreak in West Africa.

Several drug companies are working on Ebola therapies and vaccines, with a few having been fast-tracked by the FDA--including Tekmira's RNA interference therapeutic and most recently, Chimerix's antiviral drug. Two vaccines are in Phase I clinical trials--GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) vaccine, which it is working on with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, as well as one developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada in Winnipeg.

An investigational antibody therapy conceived by Mapp Biopharmaceutical has already been given to several patients so far, including two Americans. In addition, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) is working on a vaccine with partner Bavarian Nordic, while Sarepta Therapeutics ($SRPT) is developing a small interfering RNA-treatment and Biocryst Pharmaceuticals ($BCRX) is designing a small molecule against the virus.

- get more from UC Santa Cruz
- check out the open-source portal