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Ebola drug shows some promise in first tests in West Africa

Published:Wednesday | February 25, 2015 | 2:00 AM
Nine-year-old Nowa Paye is taken to an ambulance after showing signs of the Ebola infection in the village of Freeman Reserve, about 30 miles north of Monrovia, Liberia.

SEATTLE (AP):

An experimental antiviral drug shows some early, encouraging signs of effectiveness in its first human test against Ebola in West Africa, but only if patients get it when their symptoms first appear.

A study of the drug, favipiravir, is still in early stages in West Africa, and too few people have been treated to really know whether the drug helps. Other factors, like better health care, may be making a difference, and there was no comparison group of patients who got no treatment or a different drug.

Results

Results for the first 69 adults and teens in Guinea were released on Monday. Among those who got the drug when virus levels were still low, survival was 85 per cent. That seems better than the roughly 70 per cent survival for patients treated in the same clinics two months before the study began, researchers said at the Retrovirus Conference in Seattle.

The drug made no difference for those who got it later. Unfortunately, the median time of symptoms when patients sought care was five days, and the infection often is well established by then.

"We have preliminary evidence" that favipiravir may be effective, says a statement by Carlos Moedas, European commissioner for research, science and innovation, which helped fund the work. "If these results are confirmed by the ongoing clinical trial, it will be the first-ever treatment to be deployed against this deadly disease during the current outbreak."

The current Ebola outbreak is the largest in history. There have been nearly 23,000 cases and nearly 9,000 deaths, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization estimates.