Dec 22, 2014
01:14 PMThe Connecticut Story
Blumenthal Pushes for Testing of Ebola Drug From Shelton Company
Dr. Anil Diwan shows Senator Richard Blumenthal the NanoViricides Shelton lab on Monday.
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Author’s Update: Within the month the Shelton-based biotech company NanoViricides, Inc. will ship early versions of its proposed Ebola drug to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Maryland. Once there, the drug, which scientists at the company believe can potentially cure the disease, will be tested in animals against live Ebola strains.
Though representatives from NanoViricides have been in contact with the Army research institute since February, the process of getting the Ebola drug tested had stalled in recent months. Recently, the horrific outbreak of the virus in West Africa over the past year prompted Senator Richard Blumenthal to write a letter on the company’s behalf, which helped jump start the collaboration between NanoViricides and USAMRIID.
Earlier today (Dec. 22), Blumenthal visited NanoViricides’ lab in Shelton to view the facility and discuss the progress of the Ebola drug. After a detailed tour of the facility that lasted a little less than an hour, Blumenthal praised company founder Dr. Anil Diwan and his team. “I’m very impressed by the potential of this cutting edge technology,” he said. However, Blumenthal cautioned that because it is cutting edge there is a potential that the treatment might not work, and emphasized the fact that his and his office’s push to get the drug tested was not proof of its effectiveness. “As you can appreciate we are not scientists, we can’t evaluate the scientific merits of the work,” he told reporters, “but we think it deserves to be evaluated and considered for support by the Pentagon because the threat of Ebola is so desperately urgent and immediate to so many people.” Before he left the NanoViricides facility he joked, “I’d rather bet on them than the casino.”
Another Connecticut company, Protein Sciences in Meriden, is working on developing an Ebola vaccine. However, if the NanoViricide drug works it can be used to treat those already infected with the virus, as well as prophylactically. If the drug proves successful in its initial tests it could skip clinical trials and be sent to regions of Africa heavily infected by the virus, as has happened with other experimental Ebola drugs. Samuel Brauer, a consultant for NanoViricides, says even if everything goes smoothly with the testing the timeline for when the drug could be sent to Africa is not clear, but it would likely be a matter of “months not years.”
See our original story below below for the detailed history of NanoViricides, Inc. and the science behind the company’s proposed Ebola drug.
The suspected Patient Zero in the current Ebola outbreak lived in Guéckédou, in southeastern Guinea near the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. He first began showing strong symptoms of the virus on Dec. 2, and died just four days later. He was 2 years old.
A week after the boy’s death, the deadly disease killed his mother, then his 3-year-old sister and grandmother. Unrecognized, the virus, which has a two-to-three week incubation period, continued to spread.
Two people who attended the grandmother’s funeral took it back to their village, and spread it to relatives from other villages. A health worker contracted it and spread it to yet another village.
The virus was identified as Ebola in March but that has done little to slow the rate of contamination. To date, the disease has infected 2,473 people and resulted in 1,350 deaths.
Last week the World Health Organization said the scale of the epidemic had been vastly underestimated and "extraordinary measures" were needed to contain the disease.
"It is deteriorating faster, and moving faster, than we can respond to," MSF (Doctors Without Borders) chief Joanne Liu told reporters in Geneva according to MSN.com.
(Above: an MSF medical worker, wearing protective clothing at an MSF Ebola treatment facility in Kailahun, on August 15, 2014. CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
The region is awaiting consignments of up to 1,000 doses of the barely-tested drug ZMapp from the United States, while Canada is sending between 800 and 1,000 doses of a vaccine called VSV-EBOV, which has been effective in animals but has never been tested on humans. Results from ZMapp have been mixed, and even if either drug proves to be safe and effective, supplies are inefficient to stem the tide of the outbreak.
“This outbreak doesn't appear to be going away, it's not burning itself out,” says Dr. Eugene Seymour, an MD, MPH and CEO of NanoViricides, Inc., a small Connecticut biotech company that recently resumed its research for the development of an Ebola drug.
The move was prompted by the Ebola crisis in Africa and the fact that Seymour and scientists in the company believe they can potentially fight this disease more effectively than anyone else.