New ebola treatment derived from horse antibodies

The ebola virus virion.
The ebola virus virion.

A new ebola treatment derived from horse antibodies is both effective and economical, according to Australian researchers.

Research into the dangerous virus has intensified in recent years, following a major outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016 which resulted in 30,000 suspected cases and an estimated 11,310 deaths.

The outbreak resulted in the establishment of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response and a focus on developing vaccines and therapies.

The latest treatment, developed by an international team, could be used in the next ebola outbreak.

The research was led by two University of Queensland researchers, professors Alexander Khromykh and Andreas Suhrbier, with strong input from French and Russian scientists and a Queensland company.

“This is a cost-effective treatment that can be used in low-income countries in Africa where equine production facilities are already in operation for producing snake-bite antivenin,” Khromykh said.

“It’s the first time that equine antibodies have been shown to work effectively against ebola infection.”

Khromykh said this led to the development of monoclonal antibodies that were used in Britain to treat infected health workers returning from Africa.

“The down side is that monoclonal antibodies require considerable investment for scale-up and manufacture, and are expensive,” Khromykh said.

“Equine antibodies are a considerably cheaper alternative, with manufacturing capacity already in place in Africa.

“Antibodies from vaccinated horses provide a low-cost alternative, and are already in use for rabies, botulism and diphtheria.”

The University of Queensland’s Professor Paul Young, who was part of the research team, said the finding offered great hope as a rapid treatment option for ebola patients.

“It’s a significant advance on the way we think about responding to urgent disease threats, and could be applied to the treatment of other infectious diseases,” he said.

“It is also a far more appropriate option for resource-poor settings.”

Khromykh’s team had previously developed an experimental ebola vaccine made using an Australian virus called kunjin. It might also help in the fight against ebola.

The kunjin virus-derived vaccine vector, first constructed by Khromykh in 1997, has been used to develop several vaccine candidates, including one for ebola.

The latest research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, was funded by the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre.

The University of Queensland researchers were joined in the work by scientists from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, in Queensland; the State Centre for Virology and Biotechnology “Vector”, in the Russian Federation; Queensland firm Plasvacc Pty Ltd; the Australian science agency CSIRO; INSERM and Claude Bernard University, both in Lyon, France; and the United Nations Medical Service in New York.

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