Convalescence plasma This age-old method was used by Dr. Keith Brantly, the American doctor infected while helping patients in Liberia. He was administered a serum taken from a local patient who survived Ebola and still had live antibodies in his system. The problem is that it only works during an outbreak, and only for that particular viral strain.
Common to all of the methods above -- drug treatment or vaccine -- is that they haven’t gone through clinical trials to assess whether they are both safe and effective in humans. While the National Institutes for Health and the Pentagon may fund early stage efforts with animal models, which are less expensive, drug companies are needed to come up with the millions of dollars needed for full-scale drug trials with human volunteers.
“A lot of these things are early days because they have not gone through phase 1 yet,” said Gaya Amarasinghe, assistant professor of pathology and immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine.
“A single approach is not going to be useful," Amarasinghe said. "There are circumstances where vaccines may be useful, or therapeutics and small molecules may be useful. The monoclonal antibodies may not be possible in a rural, high temperature setting. Multiple approaches are needed and a much better view of the basic science needs to be known.”
Despite the obstacles, some experts believe that this most recent outbreak will force both health agencies and pharmaceutical firms to commit the scientific and financial resources to stop Ebola more quickly.
“We learn from all these outbreaks,” said Heinz Feldmann, chief of the virology laboratory of the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases in Hamilton, Mont. “In developed countries such as the United States, they are not endemic. But in nations where they are endemic, we have a responsibility to help them. I hope this outbreak will trigger policy-making authorities to release the money to be ready for the next time.”