Conference Coverage

Experimental drugs deployed in Ebola response



– For the first time, the World Health Organization’s Monitored Emergency Use of Unregistered and Investigational Interventions (MEURI) protocol is being field tested in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where four different therapeutics are being delivered to Ebola patients. MEURI was created after controversy surrounding the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which ultimately led to the decision to integrate research into outbreak responses.


MEURI is broadly designed for pathogens that have no proven intervention, on the premise that in a disease with high mortality, it can be ethically appropriate to provide experimental therapies during a response, as long as a set of criteria are met that ensure patient autonomy and give patients a reasonable opportunity to improve their condition.

The original plan was to employ experimental drugs under the MEURI umbrella during an Ebola outbreak in the DRC that began in May, but an effective response contained it so quickly that the program was canceled. However, when another Ebola outbreak occurred on Aug. 27, the material was still in the country and ready to be deployed. “That made it very easy to begin using them,” said Elizabeth Higgs, MD, global health science advisor for the division of clinical research at the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Dr. Higgs spoke about the developments during a late-breakers session at IDWeek 2018, an annual scientific meeting on infectious disease.

The therapies under consideration are Zmapp (Leaf Biopharmaceutical), which includes three chimeric monoclonal antibodies that target the main surface protein of the Ebola virus; mAb114 (NIAID), which was isolated in 1995 from a human survivor of Ebola and binds to the core of the Ebola surface protein; Remdesivir (Gilead), a small molecule that is believed to interfere with viral replication; and Regeneron’s Ebola triple monoclonal antibody cocktail, which also targets the surface protein.

Through Oct. 2, 43 Ebola patients have received one of the four drugs: 19 are cured and have been discharged, 12 have died, and 12 are still in recovery. Dr. Higgs cautioned against reading anything into those numbers, however, since no randomization was involved.

Although compassionate use is the primary aim of MEURI, it may be lead to some scientific benefit. The most that can be hoped for is to glean some insight into the safety of the interventions, although even that information is limited. “A colleague and I were talking about this the other day. After the first X number of patients, they were all still alive. What can you say from that? I think what you can say is that it didn’t kill them,” Dr. Higgs said.

Still, researchers are collecting laboratory data from patients to monitor their responses. “With Remdesivir we’re closely examining their transaminase, for example, so I think it will be helpful,” said Dr. Higgs.

SOURCE: Higgs E et al. IDWeek 2018.

Next Article: