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Anti-Ebola Compounds Show Promise

This undated colorized transmission electron micrograph image made available by the CDC shows an Ebola virus virion. (Frederick Murphy/CDC via AP)

While the West Africa Ebola epidemic is believed to be winding-down, the search for new treatments and vaccines is not. One study is a U.S./Serbian effort to find an effective anti-Ebola drug.

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Last September, there were some dire warnings that West Africa Ebola cases could eventually number between 500,000 and one and a half million. Fortunately, that did not happen. But the biggest Ebola outbreak ever did infect about 27,000 people and killed more than 11,000. And after more than a year, it’s still not over. While Liberia has been declared Ebola-free, Sierra Leone and Guinea have not.

So health and government officials say better ways to prevent or contain another outbreak are very much needed. A number of vaccine trials continue and different drugs are being tested.

For example, the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Serbian Ministry of Science and Technical Development have provided funding to study a small class of molecules known as diazachrysenes.Initial research shows that most of the mice “that received one of three experimental compounds survived infection and did not show any side effects.”

One of the researchers is Bogdan Solaja, professor of organic chemistry at the University of Belgrade. He said, “There are several chemo types, several classes of compounds which are actually today known to be active against Ebola. But from being active against Ebola to being a drug is a long, long way.”

Every step in researching a new drug, he said, is elementary.

“Our compounds, more or less, behave good in mice. I mean they cure some mice up to 90 percent as it is presented in this publication.”

The findings appear in the journal ACS Infectious Diseases.

But even though the results are very good, there’s more that needs to be known. Are these compounds toxic? Solaja said they are not. Can they cause changes in a patient’s body, affecting DNA, for example? Something called mutagenesis. The researcher said they know the answer, but cannot reveal it at this time.

“The compounds are water soluble as salts and they can be administered in [a] water solution. And that is quite good, although they are usually administered in [a] water / DMSO mixture,” he said.

DMSO – dimethyl sulfoxide – is a by-product of the wood industry and has been used as solvent. It’s been mixed with other substances to help them absorb faster.

Solaja said the goal is to have an Ebola drug that can be used the way HIV and malaria drugs are now administered.

“We want to have a drug which could be a prophylactic and which could treat the animal, which already got Ebola.”

HIV and malaria drugs are now used to prevent infection – and continue to be used if an infection has already occurred.

Despite the initial and very encouraging success, the professor said the drug will not be on the market soon.

“Average time from starting good results until market is about 10 years,” he said.

Solaja and his colleagues are working with researchers at Fort Detrick in the U.S. state of Maryland. It’s home to the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and the former site of the U.S. biological weapons program. Some of the most dangerous organisms to humans are studied there in underground labs.