Ebola-Like Virus Beaten by Tekmira Treatment in Study

Monkeys sickened by Marburg virus, an Ebola relative that kills in the same way and is equally as fatal, survived the disease after being treated with an experimental drug developed by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp.

The results, published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, are the first to show the drug can be successful even with delayed treatment, suggesting a potential use in outbreaks. Emerging infectious diseases, from AIDS to Ebola, Marburg, Chikungunya and hantavirus have thrown a scare into the world over the past decade as the number of outbreaks and their geographic range has increased.

Tekmira is one of several companies working to find a way to slow their march, even as an Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed at least 1,350 people. Marburg, like Ebola, causes bleeding that can lead to organ shutdown. The Tekmira drug is based on the same gene-silencing technology as a treatment the Vancouver-based company is testing for Ebola.

“We demonstrated the ability to protect nonhuman primates against lethal Marburg even when treatment is delayed until Day 3 when we can detect viremia at the onset of disease, showing real-world utility of this technology.” said Thomas Geisbert, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, who led the study.

While three days is the earliest that the Marburg virus could be detected in the blood of monkeys, in humans that could be six days, Geisbert said during a teleconference with reporters.

Stock Reaction

On Aug. 8, Tekmira’s stock jumped 45 percent after U.S. regulators said the company could possibly give its experimental Ebola drug to people infected in the outbreak in West Africa.

In the Marburg study, all monkeys treated with the drug survived, and those not given the treatment died. Tekmira’s treatments against Ebola and Marburg use a technique called RNA interference that targets genes specific to the diseases to stop them from replicating in the body.

While there are several strains of Marburg, the Tekmira drug was targeted against the most lethal, called MARV-Angola. The strain is named after a 2005 Marburg outbreak in Angola that killed 227 of 252 people infected.

First Identified

Marburg was the first so-called hemorrhagic fever to be identified in 1967 when 31 laboratory workers in Germany and Yugoslavia handling monkeys from Uganda were infected, and seven died. The last reported outbreak of Marburg, named after the town in Germany where it first surfaced, was in Uganda in 2012. Fifteen people were infected and four died.

Marburg and Ebola are the only members of a virus family called Filoviridae, and both are believed to be transmitted to humans from animals.

While deferring to Tekmira on safety concerns associated with its Ebola drug, Geisbert said the side effects in the Phase 1 trial on that treatment were only seen in higher doses of the drug. He expressed confidence the Marburg drug is safe.

“I would certainly have no problem -- god forbid there was an exposure -- taking this product myself,” he said.

The Marburg treatment could move into the first phase of human testing in a year, depending on funding, Geisbert said. Today’s study was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health. Tekmira’s work on the Ebola treatment has been funded by the Department of Defense, Geisbert said.

Tekmira spokeswoman Julie Rezler didn’t return a call asking about the company’s plans for the drug.

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