Health

Doctors Without Borders to host 3 accelerated Ebola drug trials

Accelerated clinical trials will be launched in West Africa to speed the search for a treatment for the deadly Ebola virus, Doctors Without Borders announced Thursday.

Trials to begin in December

A scientist separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate any Ebola RNA in order to test for the virus in Gueckedou, Guinea. (Misha Hussain/Reuters)

Accelerated clinical trials will be launched in West Africa to speed the search for a treatment for the deadly Ebola virus, Doctors Without Borders announced Thursday.

The international humanitarian group said it will host clinical trials starting next month in three Ebola treatment centres using experimental drugs that haven't been through the usual lengthy process of study with animals and healthy people.

Separate trials will be led by three different research partners and involve the UN World Health Organization and health officials in affected countries.

"If we're going to find a treatment, we have to do it now — which is why we have to accelerate these trials," said Peter Horby, the chief investigator for the trial led by Oxford University.

Oxford's trial will test the antiviral drug brincidofovir in Liberia.

France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research will conduct a trial using the antiviral drug favipiravir in Gueckedou, Guinea, and the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine will test convalescent whole blood and plasma therapy in Guinea.

Results from some of the trials are expected by February or March.

The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola has raged for more than eight months, killing more than 5,000 people and infecting more than 14,000 in West Africa.

The United Nations has appointed an Ebola chief and various governments have set up clinics. But medical teams are stretched thin and the UN health agency WHO says there are not enough foreign medical workers.

There are no established drugs for Ebola. Human testing of a handful of experimental drugs for Ebola has begun on several continents. The current outbreak kills between 50 and 80 per cent of those infected in West Africa, according to Doctors Without Borders.

While some areas of Liberia, the country hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak, have seen declines in new infections, new hotspots are emerging.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said on Thursday she would not seek an extension to a state of emergency imposed in August over Ebola.

Her announcement is a sign of progress in the fight against the disease.

The decision effectively ends the state of emergency that officially expired earlier this month, though Sirleaf said a
night curfew remains in force. The emergency had allowed authorities to restrict movement in areas hard hit by the virus.

On Wednesday, Sirleaf visited Grand Cape Mount County, currently one of the most intense pockets of transmission, but she expressed optimism that the country as a whole is moving in the right direction.

Experts have cautioned that gains could easily be reversed, and now is not the time to let up.

With files from Reuters

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