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Boston Medical Center pathogen specialist hails new Ebola study hinting at possible cure

Dr. Nahid Bhadelia went to Sierra Leone in 2014 to help with the Ebola outbreak there.
Dr. Nahid Bhadelia went to Sierra Leone in 2014 to help with the Ebola outbreak there.(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File)

Local researchers on Monday hailed the results of a landmark clinical trial showing that two therapies have had success in combating the deadly Ebola virus.

A study of nearly 500 patients found that two therapies improved survival rates, STAT News reported. The clinical trial will continue comparing these two drugs in Ebola treatment centers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“If we can get people quickly into care, what the data shows is we can reduce mortality of the disease to almost 10 percent, which is amazing,” said Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, who directs the Special Pathogen Unit at Boston Medical Center.

The fatality rate for the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa is 67 percent. More than 11,000 people died.

“We’re missing a lot of people who are dying,” she said. Many people are not seeking care early enough, if they seek care at all, she said.

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“The continuing focus has got to be building trust with community, finding cases earlier,” she said.

The therapies shown to improve survival rates are REGN-EB3, a cocktail of three monoclonal Ebola antibodies made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN), and mAb114, a single monoclonal antibody developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, STAT News reported Monday.

John Misasi, a staff clinician at the institute, was among the researchers who worked on the mAb114. As part of his research, he studied how an antibody targeted the virus, he said. Since there have been no therapeutic options for Ebola, the results are “great news,” he said.

“Anytime you do basic science research, your goal is to see something go from the bench to a patient,” said Misasi, a former instructor and staff clinician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

John H. Connor, an associate professor of microbiology at Boston University, called the findings “great news.”

“From my perspective, clinicians are presented with a real problem when someone comes in, where there’s a really high mortality rate and there’s a dearth of ways to help the patient,” he said.

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There is an Ebola vaccine, he said, but it’s only effective before someone has contracted the disease, not after.

“This helps people who actually have the disease,” he said.

“What I’m not certain has been addressed yet is how easily these therapies can be distributed, how easy it will be to make large quanities, and how easy will it be to stockpile them for future outbreaks,” he added.

Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said “it’s great to see that there’s been two treatments that seem to be very effective.”

“I think it also tells us why it’s so important to do these kinds of trials, which are extraordinarily difficult to organize in a setting like this,” he said.

One of the next challenges will be the implementation of the treatments, a process that is “often as challenging as the original discovery,” he said.


Material from STAT News was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.