Work Continues on New Ebola Drugs as Second Outbreak Hits Africa

August 25, 2014
Davy James, Associate Editor

A different Ebola strain reported in the Congo as researchers race to find a vaccine.

A different Ebola strain reported in the Congo as researchers race to find a vaccine.

A second strain of the Ebola virus has hit the beleaguered continent of Africa while an undetermined number of deaths from the disease were reported on Sunday in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Gregory Hartl said on Twitter yesterday that, pending confirmatory tests, there could be 2 different strains of the virus in 2 different outbreaks now impacting Africa. The death toll from the new outbreak in Congo, which is already responsible for more than 1300 deaths and more than 2000 confirmed and suspected cases in West Africa, is believed to be 13, including 5 health care workers, according to the Washington Post.

WHO said in a statement yesterday that more than 225 health care workers have contracted the virus over the last 6 months, with approximately 130 fatalities. Among those deaths were possibly 5 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, according to the International Pharmaceutical Federation.

“WHO recognizes there is a risk for health workers who work around Ebola and takes many precautions before they deploy to help them protect themselves in the field,” the WHO statement read. “Once there, the Organization ensures those workers have access to appropriate medical advice and support.”

As researchers continue work on several different Ebola vaccines, the country of Japan has also entered the fray by offering an experimental treatment prior to the WHO officially ruling on its use, according to a report from Reuters. Japanese firm Fujifilm Holdings Corp and US partner MediVector are discussing with the FDA submitting an application for the use of influenza drug favipiravir (T-705) as a treatment for Ebola, the report stated.

Meanwhile, an American biotech startup firm is seeking to crowdfund a study that would test the use of an experimental cancer drug in the fight against Ebola. Developed by OncoSynergy, OS2966 is a monoclonal antibody drug candidate currently undergoing evaluation in the treatment of multiple models of aggressive cancers.

The drug inhibits the cellular adhesion receptor, CD29, which is believed to be enriched in the blood vessels that are hijacked by the Ebola virus during infection, according to OncoSynergy. The company now hopes to study whether OS2966 can block Ebola in cultured human vascular cells.

“We have a unique opportunity to potentially effect a major impact on the current global Ebola crisis,” said OncoSynergy CEO and founder W. Shawn Carbonell, MD, PhD, in a press release. “However, as a seed stage biotech startup with 6 employees, we don’t have the bandwidth to take on projects beyond our central mission focused on cancer. We are teaming up with Science Exchange and Experiment to accomplish the initial experiments which are an important first step towards possible clinical testing of OS2966. We now need the public’s help to fund the work so we can start as soon as possible.”