Ebola outbreak: Clinical drug trials to start next month as death toll mounts

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(CNN) — Clinical trials of experimental Ebola treatment will start next month in West Africa as the regional death toll from the deadly virus surpasses 5,000.

Doctors Without Borders will conduct trials at three treatment centers in Guinea and Liberia, the medical aid agency announced Thursday.

One trial will treat infected patients with the antiviral drug brincidofovir at a medical center in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.

In a second trial, patients will get the antiviral drug Favipiravir in the southern town of Gueckedou in Guinea.

A third trial in the Guinean capital of Conakry will focus on giving patients blood transfusions from Ebola survivors, a method recommended by the World Health Organization.

There is currently no cure or vaccine for Ebola, which has killed thousands in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — the three nations most affected.

Clinical trials led by three research groups will focus on finding an effective therapy against the disease.

“This is an unprecedented international partnership which represents hope for patients to finally get a real treatment against a disease that today kills between 50 and 80% of those infected,” said Dr. Annick Antierens of Doctors Without Borders.

First trial

While the use of brincidofovir will be a first for Liberia, this is not the first time the drug has been used to fight the virus.

The first Ebola patient in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, got brincidofovir at Texas Health Presbyterian, where he was treated after arrival from Liberia in September. He died last month.

NBC cameraman Ashoka Mukpo, who contracted the virus in Liberia and was airlifted to the United States for treatment, got the drug as well.

He was discharged from a Nebraska hospital last month.

Second trial

In Guinea, patients will get the same treatment given to Spanish nurse’s aide Teresa Romero Ramos, who took Favipiravir . She survived.

Blood transfusions

In the Guinean capital, patients will get transfusions from survivors.

Blood from survivors, referred to as convalescent serum, is said to have antibodies that can fight the deadly virus. Though unproven, the treatment has provided some promise.

“Studies suggest blood transfusions from survivors might prevent or treat Ebola virus infection in others, but the results of the studies are still difficult to interpret,” the WHO said. “It is not known whether antibodies in the plasma of survivors are sufficient to treat or prevent the disease. More research is needed.”

Convalescent serum was used to treat American aid worker Rick Sacra, who was hospitalized in Omaha and got blood from Kent Brantly, a fellow American who survived Ebola. Both got infected when they were helping patients in Liberia.

Fears of an outbreak in Mali

The tests come amid fears that Mali has not combated the deadly virus. Four people have died of Ebola in Mali, the WHO said.

A nurse died at a hospital in the Malian capital of Bamako, the health ministry said Wednesday. The first victim, a 2-year-old girl, died last month. The nation was optimistic it had beaten the virus, but the new fatalities have raised fears of another outbreak. The hospital in Bamako is under quarantine.

The toddler’s case is not linked to the new cases, according to the WHO.

West Africa tolls

Ebola has killed at least 5,160 people and infected nearly 14,098, mostly in the three nations, the World Health Organization said in its latest report. All Ebola patients in the United States have been discharged from hospital.

CNN’s Christine Theodorou contributed to this report

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