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Ebola Is Apparently 'Incurable', But What About The Not-So-Secret Antibody Treating Americans?

06/08/2014 13:16 BST | Updated 07/08/2014 19:59 BST

If there's no treatment or cure for Ebola, why have two American patients been treated with a not-so-secret antibody that seems, so far, to be aiding their recovery? That is the question that many in West Africa want to know.

Bernice Dahn, Liberia's chief medical officer, told the Wall Street Journal that word is beginning to spread that the Americans have a cure. "This is something that has made our job most difficult," she said. "The population here is asking: 'You said there was no cure for Ebola, but the Americans are curing it?'"

The World Health Organisation said on Monday that 1,603 infections and 887 deaths have been recorded in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The disease can be fatal in up to 90% of cases, but this particular strain has been causing the death of between 60%-70% of people infected.

The two Americans, Dr Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, who were infected in Liberia, have received a treatment of untested Zmapp serum, developed by a San Diego pharmaceutical company.

A spokesman for the US government said the treatment was arranged by the charity Samaritan's Purse, which sent Dr Brantly to Liberia. The US government's National Institutes of Health gave them contacts, but did not "procure, transport, approve or administer the experimental treatments in Liberia," the official added.

The LA Times quoted Larry Zeitlin, president of Mapp Biopharmaceutical, saying that the cocktail of three monoclonal antibodies is one of several currently in development, but "very little of the drug is currently available."

The United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases has tested the drug on monkeys, with four of the six animals that were treated 48 hours after infection surviving, with two untreated animals dying.

Dr Peter Walsh, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, who has studied the spread of Ebola, said the reason that more of the drug was not being used was purely financial. "To license the drugs that are currently being developed will take years and years. The problem is there is no commercial market in Africa. If this was Western Europe, or North America, we would have a vaccine," he told HuffPost UK last week.

Ebola Cure May Have Already Been Discovered - So Why Are People Still Dying?

He pointed to the story of a German researcher who accidentally pricked herself with a needle containing Ebola, who was given a vaccine developed in the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. "She had it in her within 48 hours. We don't know, actually, if she ever did contract the disease in the first place but she never developed symptoms. But it shows how they were willing to try the vaccine, and could get it to her quickly," he said.

In 2013, the US government's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reported spending $42.49 million on Ebola research. Other private firms have also been spending on research but none have been tested on humans yet, other than the experimental trials on the two doctors.

So how much are govenrments spending on Ebola, compared to researching drugs and treating conditions that Westerns are far more likely to be affected by?

These figures are very much an approximation, but they are the lowest amount likely to be spent in the given period. Other companies and individuals may well be providing more funding into these problems.

Ebola research vs everything else