A prototype drug that has been urgently given to a handful of patients with Ebola has cleared an important test hurdle, showing that it cured lab monkeys with the disease, scientists said yesterday.
Normally, experimental drugs are tested first on animals and then on progressively larger groups of humans to ensure they are safe and effective.
But, in an exceptional move, a new drug called ZMapp that has not gone through these tests has been rushed to the outbreak in west Africa, as the lethal disease has no cure.
Reporting online in the British journal Nature, researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada said 18 rhesus macaque monkeys given high doses of Ebola virus fully recovered after being given ZMapp, even when it was administered five days after infection.
It reversed dangerous symptoms such as bleeding, rashes and high levels of enzymes in the liver.
Three "control" monkeys that had been infected, but not treated, all died within eight days.
The 21 animals had been given the so-called Kikwit strain of Ebola, named after a location in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country where the haemorrhagic fever was discovered in 1976.
Independent experts hailed the results as an encouraging first step in the long vetting process.
More than 1,500 people have died in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone since the disease emerged in West Africa last December.