Tekmira drug saves monkeys with Marburg fever, Ebola's cousin

Wed Aug 20, 2014 2:00pm EDT
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By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK Aug 20 (Reuters) - An experimental drug from Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp helped lab monkeys recover from the most deadly strain of Marburg virus, a close cousin of Ebola, even after symptoms appeared, scientists reported on Wednesday.

The findings, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, offer a glimmer of hope for treating not only Marburg disease but also Ebola hemorrhagic fever at a relatively late stage of infection.

Tekmira is also developing an experimental Ebola drug that works by a mechanism identical to the Marburg one. The company was ordered to halt the human trial of that treatment earlier this year when some of the healthy volunteers experienced adverse events such as fever.

This month, however, regulatory authorities allowed a modified version of the trial to resume, and the company is considering making the compound available in West Africa's current Ebola outbreak.

Outside experts, while praising the Marburg study as an important advance, also expressed caution given its small size and the problematic safety history of this class of drugs.

All 16 infected monkeys that received the drug, including seven that had symptoms of illness, recovered. Two of the seven received the drug three days after infection, long after scientists feared the virus would have proliferated so extensively and caused such severe organ damage that treatment would be ineffective, study leader Thomas Geisbert, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told reporters.

All five of the infected monkeys that did not receive drug became sicker and sicker, and were euthanized.

Both Marburg and Ebola cause hemorrhagic fever and kill the vast majority of those they infect, with the most severe strains having a 90 percent fatality rate. There are no approved treatments or vaccines.   Continued...