In northeastern Congo, more than 600 people have fallen ill with the Ebola virus, and at least 368 people have died from the disease. It is difficult to find the virus because of conflict in the region, despite medical advances, including a vaccine.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is where Ebola was first discovered in 1976, when the country was called Zaire. The disease was named after the Ebola River where the virus was spreading. Between then and 2013, there was no treatment or a vaccine. The outbreak ran its course in quarantined communities
Scientists started studying the virus, however, trying to come up with better ways to handle its various deadly strains. They succeeded in producing a vaccine to help the Ebola epidemic that swept through three West African countries between 201
At that time, treatment for the Zaire strain of Ebola was developed . It was costly to produce and did not work on two other lethal strains, the Sudan and Bundibugyo viruses.
But now scientists have found one. Their research produced a drug cocktail called MBP134 which helped monkeys infected with three deadly strains of Ebola recover from the disease.
Thomas Geisbert, Ph.D., led the Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, part of a public-private partnership that also included Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the US Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and the Public Health Agency of Canada
Must treat all strains
In an interview with VOA, Geisbert stressed the need for treatment that would be effective against all strains of Ebola.
"When and outbreak, we don't know which one of those three strains, species, we call them, is the cause of that particular episode," Geisbert said.
He added that treatments available have been effective only against the species, which leaves people infected with the other species unprotected.
"Our goal was to develop a treatment that would work regardless of the particular strain of Ebola that was causing it," Geisbert said.
"If I have a drug that only works against Zaire, and another drug that only works against Sudan and another drug that only works against the Bundibugyo species, which is extremely expensive, "added.
Geisbert said the treatment will save valuable time in determining which strain of Ebola is circulating in a particular outbreak. It will save lives because people can be treated immediately, and it will also save money.
There's no profit for the pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs.
like you're making a flu vaccine for companies [are] going to make a profit. There really is a small global market for Ebola so it really has to be sponsored by the government, ”he said.
In addition to the U.S. Army and the Canadian government, the U.S. National Institute of Health has much of this research.
Geisbert said the work ahead is tweaking the dose to its lowest possible amount, making it easier to distribute – again to reduce costs – and conducting clinical trials in humans to ensure the treatment is safe and effective.
Geisbert is confident it will work in humans, although he is in science, nothing is certain.
The treatment may not be ready to help those with Ebola in the Congo outbreak, but the promise is that countries affected by the virus could have the treatment at the ready to stop future Ebola outbreaks.
It also means that someone with Ebola will walk into a hospital outside of Africa, as happened in Texas when a Liberian man sought treatment, the patient can be cured, and health care workers can be protected.