By Ygal Kaufman
Ebola panic has crossed the reality paradigm from manageable minor story to full-blown international panic and back in a span of just a few months. The reality is that regardless of how much we’re freaking out about it, Ebola has no simple solution. Now however, an OSU faculty member, Patrick Iversen, formerly a senior VO with Sarepta Therapeutics, says the local biotech company has a new treatment that could be one of the most effective yet in our fight with the terrifying virus.
Sarepta, which is located about a mile from campus, has a new drug that just completed the first phase (of three) of FDA approval. Currently referred to as AVI-7537, the drug works by isolating the gene that produces a protein that attacks the infected person’s immune system.
“By knowing the gene sequence,” Iversen said in a press release, “it can be targeted to find a therapeutic approach to a specific disease.”
The drug has shown 60 to 80% survival rates in animal testing, and Sarepta is planning for a possible emergency approval from the FDA, which would likely come in the event of a new and larger US outbreak.
“The reason the virus is so successful is that it goes faster than the immune system, which doesn’t have the chance to catch up,” continued Iversen, referring to Ebola’s fast action. Basically AVI-7537 slows this process down by inhibiting the right gene, and thus giving the immune system a fighting chance.
But the new, potentially game-changing drug is not easy to make, and there certainly isn’t a lot currently on hand. Right now, Sarepta has enough for 20 courses of treatment, according to Iversen, and could have as many as 250 more ready in the coming months. But it could take over a year to produce the amounts needed to tackle a large-scale outbreak. To get there, Sarepta will need to complete the Phase 3 human trials required by the FDA. Iversen sees this coming soon.
“If they can prepare for the conduct of a quality clinical trial, we can get over there [West Africa] before the outbreak ends and gain valuable information about our drug in a controlled study,” said Iversen in the press release. “That’s critical.”