RNA Ebola Drug Clears Animal Study

The short interfering RNA-based therapy TKM-Ebola protects monkeys from the viral strain still circulating in West Africa.

Apr 24, 2015
Jef Akst

FLICKR, CDC GLOBALTekmira Pharmaceuticals’s TKM-Ebola-Makona, a short interfering RNA (siRNA) therapy that is currently undergoing clinical testing in Sierra Leone, protected three rhesus monkeys from the virus when treated 72 hours after infection, researchers reported this week (April 22) in Nature. All three untreated animals died.

“They showed universal protection in a highly lethal model three days after infection, so that’s obviously good,” Daniel Bausch, a senior consultant to the World Health Organization and an infectious-disease specialist at Tulane University who was not involved in the study, told The New York Times.

An earlier version of the drug, developed to fight a strain of the virus that circulated in 1995, was used on a compassionate use basis in Ebola patients treated in the U.S. last year, but in conjunction with other therapies, making it difficult to determine the effects of TKM-Ebola, specifically. It was also unclear whether the drug would afford protection against the Ebola strain at the root of the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. The latest results suggest that a refined version of the drug is indeed effective.

“Any treatment for Ebola that works in a time period where you can actually detect the virus already is something that’s potentially clinically promising—and that’s what you have here,” Darryl Falzarano, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada who didn’t participate in this study, told The Verge. “All the treatment animals survived. That sets the stage for a potentially useful clinical treatment.”