Current Focus: Ebola Drug Development

According to the WHO, the devastating spread of Ebola through West Africa in the past year infected 28,421 people, killing 11,297. In the face of this, apart from the need for a vaccine, the development of effective drugs must be our highest priority.

In February 2015 the WHO still reported a slight increase in new infections, and not until October 2015 did they report that for the first time since the outbreak of the epidemic no new cases had been registered. Nonetheless it is imperative that we do our utmost to fight Ebola, as further flare-up cannot be excluded and this outbreak of Ebola will not be the last.

The threat posed by Ebola was and is not restricted to West Africa – where the result has been a humanitarian catastrophe – the threat is a global one! Mutations of this pathogen may exacerbate the threat posed by this dangerous infection and in our globalised world it has become near impossible to prevent the spread of infections across countries and continents.

So far no scientifically founded systematic approach to find new, highly effective antiviral substances against Ebola infection has been completed successfully. The only glimmer of hope is provided by reports of partial successes. This is mainly due to the extremely time-consuming process of conventional drug development, which can take more than a decade. In the case of Ebola, however, speed is paramount.

With the successful application of RNA interference technology, the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin has been able to establish a development pipeline which prevents the development of resistance and shortens the drug development time drastically: because it is likely that among the multitude of chemical substances already on the market, some of which have even undergone clinical trials, there are some which are highly effective against Ebola virus. Identifying these antiviral substances is not easy, however, as they were originally developed for entirely different applications. Based on an innovative and successful approach, the foundation Focus Biomed is now aiming to fund a research and development program for an effective Ebola drug in the context of host-directed therapy. Scientific work began in early 2015.

The manager of the Ebola drug project is Prof. Thomas F. Meyer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. His long-standing experience and successes in the area of RNA interference technology and now also CRISPR, together with his team led by Dr. Alexander Karlas, represent the basis for this promising Ebola project.

The scientific advisory panel for the Ebola drug development consists of internationally renowned Ebola experts. Prof. Heinz Feldmann, Director of the Laboratory for Virology at the National Institutes of Health, USA , along with Prof. Stephan Becker, Director of the Institute of Virology at the University of Marburg will contribute his long-time experience in the field of Ebola (find out more about the scientific advisory panel here).

A Symposium on the topic of RNA interference technology and host-directed infection therapy to fight Ebola, influenza etc will take place at the Max Planck institute for Infection Biology in Berlin in November 2015, lead by Prof. Thomas Meyer. One major focus will be Ebola drug development.

The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina will support the Symposium together with its president Prof. Jörg Hacker (more about the Symposium "Host-Directed Theraoy – new ways to curing infections" here).