Ebola cure lies in survivors’ blood – experts

2014-11-07 17:20

New York – A group of scientists including three Nobel laureates in medicine has proposed that United States health officials chart a new path to developing Ebola drugs and vaccines by harnessing antibodies produced by survivors of the deadly outbreak.

The proposal builds on the use of “convalescent serum”, or survivors’ blood, which has been given to at least four US Ebola patients who then recovered from the virus. It is based on an approach called passive immunisation, which has been used since the 19th century to treat diseases such as diphtheria but has been largely surpassed by vaccination.

The scientists propose using new genetic and other technology to find hundreds or thousands of different Ebola antibodies, determine their genetic recipe, grow them in commercial quantities and combine them into a single treatment analogous to the multidrug cocktails that treat HIV/Aids.

That contrasts with current drug development, which focuses on finding one molecule, or a small number, to defeat the Ebola virus that has killed nearly 5 000 people in West Africa and infected thousands more since March.

Nobel laureates David Baltimore, an expert in the molecular biology of the immune system, James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix that is DNA, and Jim Simons, who founded hedge-fund Renaissance Technologies and was a pioneer in the quant revolution on Wall Street, are among the advocates of the idea. It was outlined in a letter that was reviewed by Reuters.

The proposal was sent to officials at the department of health and human services, including the Food and Drug Administration, to lawmakers and to biotech companies. They have not responded, said geneticist Michael Wigler of Cold Spring Harbor Lab, who wrote and gathered signatures for the position paper. The recipients did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment or said they had no comment.

The scientists urged government leadership without offering a specific development or production plan, and it is not clear whether the idea would offer a faster track to success than current efforts.

“Government agencies, commercial manufacturers and perhaps philanthropy” must work together to form a research and development infrastructure capable of producing therapeutic antibodies, said Wigler in an interview.

Although there is no proof that blood from survivors helps Ebola patients survive, it is known that patients recover when their own blood produces enough antibodies to stop the virus.

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