US confirms Ebola cure, Congolese scientist smiles for 43 yrs of work

15Aug 2019
The Guardian
US confirms Ebola cure, Congolese scientist smiles for 43 yrs of work

CONGOLESE scientist Prof Jean-Jacques Muyembe was all smiles on Tuesday when he announced the confirmation of the most effective ever Ebola drug.

Ebola drug.

He was the happiest man on earth for a reason: he has been on a mission to find a cure for Ebola for the past 43 years. Currently the General Director of the National Institute for Biomedical Research of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) he was part of the team at the Yambuku Catholic Mission Hospital that investigated the first Ebola outbreak in August 1976.

The outbreak occurred in Yambuku and surrounding areas in what was then Zaire. There were 318 cases out of which 280 were fatal. Since then, Prof Muyembe who was born in 1942 has never researched anything else but cure for Ebola.

The reason is that since then there have been repeats of outbreaks in the DRC as well as other African countries where his experience in fighting the hemorrhagic fever was needed.

“From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable,” said Prof Muyembe, whose institute oversaw the trial. “These advances will help save thousands of lives.”

The trials which began in November last year involved four drugs but two emerged the most effective. All Ebola treatment units will now use the two monoclonal antibody drugs, he said.

More than 90 per cent of infected people can survive if treated early with the two most effective drugs.

On Tuesday, two people cured of Ebola using the experimental drugs were released from a treatment centre in Goma, eastern DRC, and reunited with their families.

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which co-sponsored the trial, said the results are "very good news" for the fight against Ebola.

The drugs, named REGN-EB3 and mAb114, work by attacking the Ebola virus with antibodies, neutralising its impact on human cells.

They are the "first drugs that, in a scientifically sound study, have clearly shown a significant diminution in mortality" for Ebola patients, said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID.

The drug mAb114 was developed using antibodies harvested from survivors of Ebola while REGN-EB3 comes from antibodies generated within mice infected with the disease.

Ebola has killed more than 1,800 people in DR Congo in the past year.

Two other treatments, called ZMapp and Remdesivir, have been dropped from trials as they were found to be less effective.

The trial was conducted by an international research group co-ordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) whereby the four experimental drugs were tested on around 700 patients, with the preliminary results from the first 499 now known.

Of the patients given the two more effective drugs, 29 per cent on REGN-EB3 and 34 per cent on mAb114 died, NIAID said.

In contrast, 49 per cent on ZMapp and 53 er cent on Remdesivir died in the study, the agency said.

The survival rate among patients with low levels of the virus in their blood was as high as 94 per cent when they were given REGN-EB3, and 89 per cent when on mAb114, the agency said.

The findings mean health authorities can "stress to people that more than 90 per cent of people survive" if they are treated early, said Sabue Mulangu, an infectious-disease researcher who worked on the trial.