Researchers at Siriraj Hospital, part of Mahidol University, claim they have developed the world’s first “antibody treatment” that could cure Ebola virus infections.
At least a year away from practical application, the antibody was called a significant step toward finding a cure for the disease, which has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa this year. Currently there is no cure, although several experimental drugs have been deployed in the battle against the epidemic.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said Wednesday it has at least 1,500 doses of an experimental vaccine ready to be given to medical personnel fighting the disease in Africa. The German Press Agency said WHO has been working to speed up testing of two experimental-stage vaccines – chimpanzee adenovirus developed by British company GlaxoSmithKline and a US government laboratory, and VSV developed by Canada’s health agency.
Siriraj’s antibody – developed with the use of human genes, not the Ebola virus itself – is small enough to enter infected cells and access virus proteins within them, doctors said. The antibody is five times smaller than what is being tested in the United States, said Dr Udom Kachinthorn, dean of the medical science faculty at Siriraj.
He said the Thai antibody had different structures and mechanisms and was more efficient, making a cure derived from it more effective.
Researchers used synthesised Ebola genes in development of the antibody and tested them on samples of haemorrhagic-fever viruses similar, but less virulent, than the five Ebola variants.
Thailand does not possess a Biosafety Level 4 facility required to test on the Ebola virus itself. Doctors also admitted they have not been in contact with the World Health Organisation regarding the purported cure.
The next step will be to conduct testing on animals before moving on to human trials. If the tests are successful, the antibody would then need to be mass produced. That step would be at least a year away, Dr Udom cautioned.
However, he added, the Thai pharmaceutical sector could expedite the drug’s development, pending more tests. To facilitate that, Siam Bioscience, a joint Thai-Cuban pharmaceutical venture launched this year, will join in the research.
Doctors, eager to promote the antibody treatment as the first of its kind developed in Thailand, emphasised it is not a vaccine. Dr Wanpen Chaicumpa, head of the Ebola antibody-development team, said the treatment would be administered after infection through injection.
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