May 31, 2016

The West African outbreak of Ebola virus in 2014 made Ebola a household word. The outbreak made clear that infectious diseases know no borders and have global impact.

Ebola first emerged 40 years ago, spreading its deadly symptoms across South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the World Health Organization, Ebola has a 50% average mortality rate. During the 2014-2016 outbreak, the disease infected over 28,000 people in West Africa and killed over 11,000. Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments or vaccines for the Ebola virus – but the team at Texas Biomedical Research Institute and the Southwest National Primate Research Center is working to change that.

These scientists are working with the National Institutes of Health, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the Department of Defense to develop assays and evaluate vaccine and therapeutic candidates.

Most recently, a group of Texas Biomed scientists led by Dr. Ricardo Carrion and Dr. Anthony Griffiths was awarded a $6.6 million contract in November 2017 from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to test a drug cocktail for efficacy against Ebola virus disease. These well-regulated, controlled studies that will begin in 2018 are a critical next step before declaring this drug cocktail safe and effective in humans.

“Texas Biomed is the only Institute of its kind in the country, with two extraordinary resources in one place – the BioSafety Level – 4 (BSL-4) facilities and nonhuman primate colonies,” said Scientist and Director of Texas Biomed’s BSL-4 laboratory Dr. Robert Davey.

In 2015, after discovering that tetrandrine works to stop the Ebola virus, Dr. Davey and his lab wondered: how can we move this herbal remedy into the clinic?

He has since teamed up with scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to develop a synthetic route to make safer versions of tetrandrine with better clinical properties as potential therapeutics against the virus. To support their scientific studies, the team of researchers received an NIH research and development contract worth up to $4.1 million.

From helping diagnose a disease to curing them, scientists at Texas Biomed and the Southwest National Primate Research Center continue the fight against pathogenic invaders and the search for new ways to approach global health threats.

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