Thanks to Lucie Lecomte for sending the link to this New York Times editorial: New Thinking About Ebola Treatments. Excerpt:
A radical but promising proposal to help treat victims of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa appears to be gaining support among knowledgeable experts.
There are currently no approved drugs to treat infection with the Ebola virus, and only a handful of potential drug therapies in the very earliest stages of testing in humans or animals, with little likelihood that they could be produced on a large scale any time soon. The new proposal would fill the gap by using drugs that have already been approved to treat other diseases and repurposing them to treat Ebola as well.
This approach is well worth pursuing, given the crisis. Two broad categories of drugs are being mentioned. Existing drugs that seek to disable the viruses responsible for other diseases, for example, might conceivably disable the Ebola virus. And drugs that temper the body’s response to other diseases by reducing severe inflammation might also dampen the often fatal inflammatory response in Ebola patients.
An advantage to using existing drugs is that they have been tested for safety and are often available in large quantities and produced as cheaper generics. If they could be offered to infected people in Africa, it might encourage patients to go get treatment instead of hiding from the authorities, and it might bolster the confidence of health care workers who are fleeing from hospitals in droves.
There are also disadvantages. Just because a drug is effective against one disease does not mean it would work against Ebola. It is possible that some drugs might actually harm Ebola patients by making their infection worse or by causing severe side effects.
One expert warns that the Ebola infection progresses rapidly within the body and that a drug that helps on Day 2 might become harmful by Day 7. That is why even approved drugs should be administered in clinical trials to determine whether they work against Ebola. Though it would not be easy to conduct such trials, several experts have said they think it could and should be done.
The idea of using approved drugs was proposed in an Op-Ed article in The Times on Aug. 16. Thirty respected clinical investigators and epidemiologists around the world are on record as supporting the article.
Other experts have expressed reservations and have called for drug tests in nonhuman primates first. Even those who have backed the use of existing drugs because “desperate situations justify desperate measures” have stressed that there needs to be some evidence a drug might work.
Beyond this, the primary need right now is supportive care — like keeping patients hydrated, which allows many to recover even without a drug treatment. This requires that hospitals and clinics have isolation units for the patients and protective gear for doctors and nurses to prevent the spread of the virus.
Once such facilities exist, it should be possible to compare one group of patients given standard supportive care with another group given supportive care plus a drug that might help them.