Scientists have declared that the era in which the Ebola virus is considered an incurable disease has come to an end.
The announcement, made Monday, comes after two experimental treatments proved so effective in recent trials that they will now be offered to all patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country is currently in the throes of a year-long outbreak of Ebola—the second-largest outbreak ever.
The disease, which leads to severe cases of fever, headache, and hemorrhaging, normally kills about half of those infected, yet the latest outbreak has claimed the lives of around 70 percent of those who have contracted it.
According to Prof. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the director-general of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, many have walked into Ebola treatment centers only to leave the centers dead.
But the new antibody-based treatments are so potent that only one out of every ten Ebola sufferers who receive the new drugs are expected to die. Muyembe told the Guardian:
“From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable … These advances will help save thousands of lives.”
Up until now, many families within the epidemic zone have hidden those infected due to raging violence and distrust, or only taken them to receive care when it was too late to save them or worse, when it become more likely that the virus will be transmitted to family members.
The latest epidemic has infected around 2,800 patients so far and killed nearly 1,000 of them, according to the World Health Organization. Doctor Muyembe expects the new drugs to be a game-changer, noting:
“Now that 90% of their patients can go into the treatment center and come out completely cured, they will start believing it and building trust in the population and community.”
According to Nature, REGN-EB3 is a cocktail of three monoclonal antibodies made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. mAB-114 was sourced from a single antibody recovered from the blood of someone who contracted Ebola in 1995 and was developed by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID).
The treatments are administered intravenously in the blood and adhere to the outside of the virus, preventing it from overtaking the patient’s cells.
Before seeking regulatory approval for the treatments, researchers will continue to collect trial data in the outbreak zone. The trials have been laborious for scientists given the need for protective suits, quarantining patients, and the surrounding conflict in the region.
Dr. Jeremy Farrar, the director of global charity organization Wellcome and the co-chair of the WHO Ebola therapeutics group, said:
“This trial—the first-ever multi-drug randomized trial for Ebola—has happened despite such highly complex and challenging circumstance.
A long-running outbreak like this takes a terrible toll on the communities affected and it is a sign of just how difficult this epidemic has been to control … The more we learn about these two treatments, and how they can complement the public health response, including contact tracing and vaccination, the closer we can get to turning Ebola from a terrifying disease to one that is preventable and treatable.
We won’t ever get rid of Ebola but we should be able to stop these outbreaks from turning into major national and regional epidemics.”