Laura McMullan, a microbiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who lead the research, said the two treatments were developed based on strains from previous outbreaks and this study was the first to test them on the current one, which researchers are calling the Ituri strain.
“It’s vitally important to make sure existing treatments work against the virus that’s making people sick now,” she said.
“They’re currently being tested in a clinical trial but we needed to verify and make sure that they were going to be as effective,” she told CNN.
“Information that we knew about how well they worked was based on a different Ebola virus variant so we needed to make sure that, indeed, these compounds were going to bind and block the virus and measure that, and see if it worked as well in order for the clinical trials to proceed,” she said.
In 2014, ZMapp became known when it was used to treat two American missionary workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who contracted Ebola in Liberia. Prior to that, the experimental drug had been tested only in monkeys.
“This work has benefits beyond the current study,” said Inger Damon, chief strategy officer for the CDC’s 2018 Ebola response and director of CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology. “Having access to this virus will allow us to explore whether other compounds or potential therapies affect the virus in the lab.”
Because the treatments are experimental, meaning they are still being studied, they are administered with strict protocols and require informed consent.
Despite the new drugs to fight the disease, Ebola is spreading to new parts of eastern Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces and re-infecting areas thought rid of the virus.
Last month, it also made the long-feared jump across the border to neighboring Uganda, though those isolated cases appear to have been contained.
Deep mistrust of authorities, attacks on health care workers and simmering conflict in the region has meant that the outbreak has continued unabated 11 months after the first cases were confirmed.