Two Novartis AG leukemia drugs, Gleevec and Tasigna, fought the deadly Ebola virus in laboratory experiments, suggesting the products could be used against a disease for which there are no treatments.
The two medicines stopped the release of viral particles from infected cells in lab dishes, a step that in a person may prevent Ebola from spreading in the body and give the immune system time to control it, researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases wrote in the journal Science Translational Medicine today.
There’s no cure and no vaccine for Ebola, a virus that causes high fever, diarrhea, vomiting and internal and external bleeding. Death can ensue within days, and outbreaks in Africa have recorded fatality rates of as much as 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization.
In some forms of leukemia, Gleevec and Tasigna reduce levels of a protein called Bcr-Abl that causes malignant white blood cells to multiply.
The researchers found that Ebola uses a related protein called c-Abl1 tyrosine kinase to regulate its own reproduction. They showed that by blocking c-Abl1, Tasigna may reduce the pathogen’s ability to replicate by as much as 10,000-fold. In addition to showing how the two drugs might be used to treat infected patients, the findings also suggest that new medicines could be developed to target c-Abl1, they wrote.
Gleevec and Tasigna, also known as imatinib and nilotinib, earned Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis a combined $5.45 billion in sales last year. Gleevec is sold as Glivec outside the U.S.