A new Ebola therapy that is being administered in the Democratic Republic of Congo has saved about 90 percent of recipients in the early course of infection.
“I think it is something to be really pleased about,” said Dr, Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who co-led the trial.
“It is the first example of a scientifically proven and scientifically sound therapy that significantly diminishes the mortality rate of people with Ebola disease,” added Dr. Fauci speaking to the BBC’s News Day.
The PALM trial evaluated three Ebola antibody preparations and one antiviral drug in a randomized controlled trial conducted in the midst of the devastating outbreak, which has hit two provinces in the eastern DRC mired in violence.
The new experimental treatments, known as REGN-EB3 and mAb-114 are both cocktails of monoclonal antibodies that are infused intravenously into the blood.
The experiment was done side by side with a comparison of ZMapp, a drug that was used successfully in the West African epidemic.
Overall, 49% of patients receiving ZMapp—and 53% of those who received remdesivir—died, compared with only 29% of those on REGN-EB3. The difference was big enough to meet the predetermined criterion for stopping the trial early. In the group that received mAb114, mortality was 34%. The figures are deemed close enough to that of the Regeneron cocktail should continue being used.
The 41% of trial participants who sought treatment early after infection and had lower levels of Ebola virus in their blood. The other two new treatments had astonishing success, mortality plummeted to 6% in the Regeneron antibody group and to 11% with mAb114. (With ZMapp and remdesivir, mortality rates in people with low viral load were 24% and 33%, respectively.) There is far less hope for patients with a high viral load. However, REGN-EB3 death rate was recorded at 60%.
The on-going Ebola crisis has so far claimed at least 1800 lives. This could be a low estimate as some reports indicate that only half of the cases are accounted for.
This is due to skepticism among many patients about quarantine if tested positive for the Ebola disease. Some patients were reportedly taking up to four days to receive the vaccines from the time of getting information.
Dr Fauci hoped that offering patients a required treatment may contribute to a more comfortable and seek care at an early stage. Many community member believe that dying of Ebola would lead to unceremonious funeral. They also cite that the disease will make them being buried by strangers in strange white suits like animals. The conduct is contrary to their cultural beliefs.
This has been leading to high mistrust and fear of the virus among locals. The doctors who have been leading the experiment of the therapy are hoping that their breakthrough will result in a transformation of attitude among the locals.
“Now we can say that 90 percent can come out of treatment cured, they have started to trust treatment we offer them,” Dr. Muyembe said.
Dr. Muyembe 77, has been fighting Ebola since it first appeared in 1976. He is well known for having pioneered the use of survivors blood serum which contains antibodies for treatment. The success of the new experiments has also piggybacked on his original research.
A spokeswoman for Regeneron said the company had not considered pricing yet but was currently offering the treatment for free for “compassionate use” purposes.
Header Image Credits: The Standard Kenya