Scientists in London on Tuesday unveiled plans to push ahead with clinical trials of prototype Ebola treatments in West Africa for the first time, possibly from November.
Wellcome Trust, a British biomedical research charity, which is funding the effort with a Â£3.2 million grant ($5.2 million, 4.1 million euros) said, “Ebola treatments are to be tested in West Africa for the first time.”
The charity said there had been some experiments with treatments already “but none has yet been tested for efficacy and safety in humans with Ebola” and scientists underlined that months of cautious work lay ahead.
David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested that plasmapheresis, where serum is taken from survivors and their antibodies given to patients, could be a valuable tool in the battle to contain the epidemic.
“This would be a sustainable method of providing support to patients if it were effective, but unfortunately it has never been tested in a clinical setting, even though it has been used ad hoc many times,” he said at a press conference at Wellcome’s headquarters in London.
Heymann said that they hoped to collect enough serum for trials to begin once suitable sites had been identified.
Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said that William Pooley, the British nurse who recovered after contracting the disease in Sierra Leone, had volunteered his blood plasma.
Pooley was treated with ZMapp, and clinical tests of this experimental drug, along with anti-viral drugs, will also begin once possible sites for the trials in the affected countries have been established.
Health workers must also set up infrastructure and recruit personnel, pending WHO recommendations on which products to test first.
The first tests could take place “by November”, according to Peter Horby, Senior Clinical Research Fellow at Oxford University.
Wellcome added that the initiative, whose partners include the World Health Organisation (WHO), would aim to “fast-track trials of the most promising drugs”, but warned that it would take several months before any treatments bore fruit, and that they would only succeed as part of a wide raft of initiatives to combat the disease.
Several pharmaceutical companies are taking part in the tests, and will provide key data on safety and production abilities.