Doctors Without Borders Accelerates Response to Ebola Crisis

While the Ebola scare has started to fade away in the United States, the crisis continues to devastate West Africa, where the death toll has climbed above 5000 with more than 14000 confirmed and suspected cases.

While the Ebola scare has started to fade away in the United States, the crisis continues to devastate West Africa, where the death toll has climbed above 5000 with more than 14000 confirmed and suspected cases.

In response to the ongoing African epidemic, humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders today announced that it will host clinical trials using experimental drugs in 3 Ebola treatment centers beginning next month.

A trial on the antiviral drug favipiravir will launch in Guéckédou, Guinea; another trial on convalescent whole blood and plasma therapy will be held in Conakry, Guinea; and a third trial on the antiviral drug brincidofovir will be held at a site yet to be determined in Liberia. The World Health Organization (WHO) and health officials from the affected countries will also participate in the collaborative effort.

“This is an unprecedented international partnership that represents hope for patients to finally get a real treatment against a disease that today kills between 50% and 80% of those infected,” said Doctors Without Borders investigational partnership coordinator Annick Antierens, MD, in a press release. “As one of the principal providers of medical care to Ebola patients in West Africa, Doctors Without Borders is taking part in these accelerated clinical trials to give people affected by the current outbreak a better chance of survival.”

The drugs brincidofovir and favipiravir were chosen from the WHO’s list of potential Ebola treatments after an extensive evaluation of their safety and efficacy profiles, product availability, and ease of administration. The trials have a simple target of 14-day survival and broad inclusion criteria.

The researchers are seeking to ensure minimal disruption to patient care with initial results possibly available in February 2015.

“Conducting clinical trials of investigational drugs in the midst of a humanitarian crisis is a new experience for all of us, but we are determined not to fail the people of West Africa,” said Liberian trial chief investigator Peter Horby in a press release. “It has been a privilege to witness the extraordinary willingness of all the partners in this initiative to step outside their comfort zones in order to fast track these critically important trials.”

Other promising therapies in various stages of development include an experimental drug co-developed by the National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline; a vaccine from the Government of Canada licensed for further development to NewLink Genetics; a drug from Johnson & Johnson that is projected to begin clinical testing in early 2015; Tekmira Pharmaceuticals’ RNA interference treatment, called TKM-Ebola; and ZMapp, which reversed Ebola infection in 100% of subjects during animal testing.

Doctors Without Borders is pushing for the drug developers to accelerate production in order to ensure that there is no gap between the end of clinical trials and a large-scale rollout of drugs deemed safe and effective. Additionally, the group is asking drugmakers to ensure the treatments are affordable and available in the quantities required to stop the outbreak at ground zero in West Africa.

“What is needed most urgently in this outbreak is more beds for sick people, more staff to treat them, more efforts to ensure contacts of patients are being monitored, and more health promotion to reduce transmission of the disease in the countries affected,” said Doctors Without Borders Medical Director Bertrand Draguez, MD, in a press release. “Coupled with these efforts, vaccination of frontline health workers—who are among the most vulnerable people–and mass campaigns to vaccinate large numbers of people in affected and at-risk countries could make a huge difference in curbing this outbreak. What we are seeing in West Africa today is a disaster scenario, and all actors–pharmaceutical companies as well as states–should be doing everything they can to speed up the response.”