January 22, 2015 / 7:16 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. health officials say Ebola treatment trial to start soon in Liberia

Health workers take the temperature of a boy who came in contact with a woman who died of Ebola virus in the Paynesville neighborhood of Monrovia, Liberia, January 21, 2015. REUTERS/James Giahyue

(Reuters) - U.S. health officials said on Thursday that they are planning to start larger, decisive clinical trials in Liberia in the next two weeks to determine if two new Ebola treatments under development are safe and effective.

One of the treatments is being developed by GlaxoSmithKline and another by Newlink Genetics Corp with Merck & Co.

The U.S. government and leading drugmakers have accelerated their efforts to bring a vaccine or treatment to market since the Ebola outbreak reached crisis proportions in West Africa last year. That includes speeding to human trials treatments that had only been tested in non-human primates.

The treatments are advancing even as the World Health Organization said the epidemic in West Africa appears to be ebbing.

There have been 21,724 cases of Ebola reported in nine countries in the past year since the epidemic began in Guinea, including 8,641 deaths, according to the latest WHO figures.

The officials, speaking on a conference call, also said that they expect to soon start phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials - an earlier stage than the trials for the other two treatments - of the ZMapp Ebola virus treatment that is being developed by privately held Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.

They said they believe they have produced enough ZMapp to supply the trials, which are awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and will likely start two to three weeks later.

Dr. Robin Robinson, Director of the U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, said it expects to have thousands of doses of the ZMapp drug available by the end of the year for commercial use if the treatment is proved effective in the trials.

In Liberia, about 27,000 people are expected to take part in the trial for the treatments from GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and NewLink. In Sierra Leone, where the officials said they are also considering moving forward with a trial, they are targeting healthcare workers and expect to include about 6,000 people. Sierra Leone has yet to decide which treatment would be used in that trial, the officials said.

Reporting by Bill Berkrot and Caroline Humer; editing by Andrew Hay and Christian Plumb

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