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Researcher Says Test New Ebola Drugs Now

Ebola outbreaks, deaths in West Africa, as of August 13, 2014
Ebola outbreaks, deaths in West Africa, as of August 13, 2014
Researcher Says Test New Ebola Drugs Now
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A man who discovered the Ebola virus says now is the time to test drugs that could help people infected with the dangerous disease. More than 1,000 people have died from Ebola infection in West Africa since February.

Guido van der Groen is the former head of the virology unit at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium. He and other researchers discovered the virus in 1976 in Zaire. The country is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Dr. van der Groen says fewer people lived in West Africa then, and they did not travel as much.

“When we started to find the virus for the first time, the areas in which we found this virus was the northern part of Zaire, which was really a rural area and which was not densely populated and in these days, the mobility of the people was very, very, very low compared to now.”

Now, he says, conditions in West Africa are better to test new medicines on large numbers of people. While the growth of Africa’s population has helped the virus spread, it may also help researchers develop treatments and a cure.

“On a daily basis, you still have a decent number of new infections. So, that means that there are a number of patients that you can follow. If you have a chance to start to treat some of them, you will learn in a very, very short period if some of these promising products are indeed are beneficial.”

Human trials

One of those new medicines is a vaccine that includes the Ebola virus currently spreading in West Africa. The drug is based on the vaccine for rabies.

Matthais Schnell is developing the drug. He is the director of the vaccine center at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Mr. Schnell says researchers are planning to test the new drug in humans in two or three years. But, he says, if they had enough money researchers could test it earlier.

Another new drug -- called ZMapp -- is being used to treat several people who were infected with Ebola in West Africa.

Thomas Geisbert is a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch. He says giving a large number of people experimental Ebola treatments is a complicated issue. Mr. Geisbert says regulators must decide how many people to give test drugs to.

Mr. Geisbert also says drug companies are not moving quickly to develop drugs to treat people infected with Ebola. The market for such drugs is small. He says many more people suffer from other conditions, including malaria, influenza and cancer.

About 2,000 people have been infected with Ebola in four West African countries this year. The number of cases continues to grow every day.

I’m Mario Ritter.

This story was written by VOA reporter Pam Dockins in Washington. It was adapted for Learning English by Christopher Cruise and edited by Kelly Jean Kelly.