Hopes rise of an Ebola breakthrough.
Byline: John von Radowitz
HOPES of a breakthrough in the fight against Ebola have been raised by the 100% successful treatment of monkeys with the deadly disease.
The experimental drug ZMAPP cured the animals even when administered five days after infection, while they were displaying severe symptoms.
All 18 rhesus macaques made a complete recovery, in contrast to three other untreated monkeys that quickly fell seriously ill and died.
ZMAPP is a blend of three laboratory-made antibodies designed to neutralise the virus.
Two US doctors given the drug after they were infected with Ebola while working in Liberia subsequently recovered. But it is not known whether they were saved by the drug or just lucky. About 45% of those infected in the current outbreak have survived without treatment.
At least two other patients treated with ZMapp have died, possibly because help got to them too late.
The new research, published in a special report on Nature journal's website, provides hard evidence that the drug works and can be highly effective.
A team of scientists led by Dr Gary Kobinger, from the Public Health Agency of Canada, wrote: "ZMapp exceeds the efficacy of any other therapeutics described so far, and results warrant further development of this cocktail for clinical use ...
"We hope that initial safety testing in humans will be undertaken soon, preferably within the next few months, to enable the compassionate use of ZMapp as soon as possible."
The news follows a warning from the World Health Organisation that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa could eventually claim more than 20,000 victims. Latest figures show 1,552 deaths from the 3,069 cases reported so far.
Ebola, belonging to the family of "filoviruses", ranks alongside Marburg virus as one of the world's deadliest infections. Fatality rates in previous outbreaks have been as high as 90%. It kills by overwhelming the immune system and sending the body into shock as blood pressure drops to dangerous levels.
Currently there are is no approved vaccine or post-exposure treatment.