Ethical Review Set for Experimental Ebola Treatment

Davy James, Associate Editor
Published Online: Thursday, August 7, 2014
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The World Health Organization will examine an unproven Ebola treatment that showed promise in 2 Americans infected with the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is scheduled to discuss next week the widespread use of an experimental treatment for Ebola hemorrhagic fever to mitigate the ongoing outbreak in West Africa.

The unproven drug, ZMapp, which was developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc, was given to American relief workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who became infected with the Ebola virus while working with patients in Liberia. Both Dr. Brantly and Writebol showed significant improvement after receiving ZMapp, which acts as a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies that bind and inactivate the virus by recognizing infected cells and triggering the immune system to kill them off, according to Mapp.

As WHO meets to discuss ZMapp, which is available in extremely limited quantities, a panel of medical ethicists will decide whether an untested treatment should be used in the outbreak, as well as determine who should receive the drug if it is utilized, the organization said in a statement.

“We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,” said WHO Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny, PhD, in a press release. "We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.”

President Barack Obama said in a news conference on Wednesday that it was still too early to send ZMapp to West Africa without more clarity on the efficacy of the treatment.
 "I think we have to let the science guide us. And I don't think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful,” Obama said in a report on Yahoo News.

The latest figures released by WHO on Wednesday estimated the Ebola-related death toll at more than 900, with more than 1700 suspected and confirmed cases. WHO also began a 2-day emergency meeting yesterday to decide whether to declare the West African outbreak an international crisis.

As the debate continues on the use of ZMapp, other firms are busy at work to develop an effective treatment for the devastating outbreak. The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is currently testing the most promising antibody cocktails from around the world as part of a $28 million NIH-funded consortium to determine the most effective treatment in neutralizing Ebola and similar viruses.

“What we’re showing are sites of vulnerability on the surface of the virus,” said C. Daniel Murin, of TSRI, in a press release. “These are the chinks in the armor of the virus and the places where you would want your anti-serum to target.”


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