Gates Foundation, other donors launch study of Ebola drugs, survivors blood, in Africa

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed US$5.7 million (NZ$7.2m) to help produce and test potential blood- based therapies and antiviral treatments for Ebola.

The funds will support efforts in West Africa to evaluate plasma and other blood products from survivors of Ebola virus disease as a means of treating the infection in others, the Seattle-based foundation said in an e-mailed Nov. 18 statement. Various drug candidates will also be tested, including Chimerix Inc.’s antiviral brincidofovir.

The first human trials of experimental Ebola treatments are starting next month in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, fast- tracking the development of pharmaceuticals to fight a disease that’s killed more than 5,000 people.

Discovered almost 40 years ago, Ebola has no proven cure or vaccine and kills as many as 88 percent of those it strikes.

“The Gates Foundation is focusing its R&D investments on treatments, diagnostics and vaccines that we believe could be quickly produced and delivered to those who need them if they demonstrate efficacy in stopping the disease,” said Papa Salif Sow, a senior programme officer and infectious diseases doctor with the foundation’s global health programme, in the statement.

Blood components taken from Ebola survivors may be used to treat those infected with the deadly virus before vaccines or experimental drugs become available, said David Wood, the World Health Organization official coordinating the initiative.

SCALE UP

Studies on the use of so-called convalescent serum will start among hundreds of patients in the next few weeks, with results expected early in 2015 in a best-case scenario, Wood said in a Nov. 1 interview.

If the results are positive, efforts to scale up the use of blood would begin immediately.

Convalescent plasma, combined with technology that inactivates any pathogen the antibody-rich material harbors, offers promise in treating Ebola, the Gates Foundation said.

The liquid will be collected initially through three mobile donation units airlifted into Ebola-affected areas.

Survivors who are potential donors will be tested to ensure that they are cured of Ebola and are not infected with other blood-borne diseases, the group said.

Disease-fighting antibodies will be collected in a process known as plasmapheresis, which uses a device to save only the liquid part, or plasma, containing antibodies.

The rest of the blood is returned to donors via infusion, which allows them to donate significantly more anti-Ebola antibodies than could be obtained via a whole blood donation.

“Use of plasmapheresis also allows survivors to donate every two weeks,” the Gates Foundation said, adding that, under WHO guidelines, survivors who donate whole blood cannot volunteer for plasmapheresis for at least another three months.

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