A team led by Oxford researchers has begun a trial of the latest potential treatment for the on-going Ebola epidemic.

The team is investigating a drug called brincidofovir, which has already been used to treat Ebola patients around the world. Ebola, which has claimed over 8,300 lives, still has no definitive cure.

Brincidofovir is an experimental oral treatment developed by private American
healthcare company Chimerix. Run by volunteers from Doctors Without Borders and the University of Oxford and funded by the Wellcome Trust, the cooperative trial will test the effectiveness of the drug.

Up to 140 adult Ebola patients in Liberia’s capital Monrovia, one of the cities hardest hit by the West African outbreak, are undergoing two weeks of brincidofovir treatment. To determine the drug’s impact, researchers will
compare the fatality rate of these patients with previous death rates in the hospital.

Professor Peter Horby of Oxford’s Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, the trial’s chief investigator, said, “The Ebola epidemic is causing an unprecedented health and socioeconomic crisis in West Africa. There are many things that need to be done.’’

“Amongst them is a proper evaluation of experimental treatments that have been developed for Ebola virus disease. The only time we can fully evaluate these potential therapies is during an Ebola epidemic.”

Typically, clinical trials of treatments for deadly viruses like Ebola take over a year to organise. However, the scale and urgency of the epidemic means that this Oxford-led trial has come together in less than four months.

Since the epidemic’s outbreak in late 2013, Oxford has been a leading figure in Ebola research. Over the past few months, Oxford has hosted several trials of mass-produced preventive vaccines that may be used to protect healthcare workers in affected countries.

Oxford’s efforts to develop a treatment, which include an upcoming study of another drug in Sierra Leone, are part of a wider global rush to develop therapies, vaccines, and even a cure for Ebola.

Professor Trudie Lang, another member of the Oxford research team, emphasised the value of thorough, well-funded scientific trials like the one run by the University of Oxford and Médecins Sans Frontières. “It is important to do a trial because you cannot learn about a drug from treating individuals,” she told Cherwell.

“We are setting out to evaluate several potential therapies within the rigour and formal protocol of a clinical trial, with the aim of identifying an effective and safe treatment that is oing to be available for African communities
at scale.”

The first Ebola patient received the study drug on January 2nd 2015. If this ongoing trial is successful, Lang explained, there will be a second, larger trial in one of the three countries most affected by the epidemic – Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone. If that too had positive results, brincidofovir would be released on a wide scale.