WHO Advises Ebola Therapies Derived From Survivors' Blood

Megan Brooks

September 05, 2014

Blood-derived therapies and convalescent serum may be used for the treatment of Ebola virus disease, and all efforts must be invested in helping affected countries use them safely now, a group of more than 200 experts convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded today after a 2-day meeting at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Studies suggest that blood transfusions from Ebola survivors might prevent or treat Ebola infection in others, the WHO notes in meeting documents.

"With the negative point that we have so many patients, one positive point is there are also many people now who are convalescent, who survived and are doing well. These people can provide blood, serum to treat," WHO Assistant Director-General Marie Paule Kieny, PhD, said during a press briefing today.

Meeting attendees also identified 2 "promising" Ebola vaccine candidates and agreed that these "must be prioritized in terms of clinical development," Dr. Kieny said.

She noted that safety studies are currently underway in the United States and will soon start in Europe and Africa. Safety results in a small number of people could be available by November 2014, "and this would open the way for use in affected countries initially in healthcare workers and front line staff, as advised by the ethics panel that met recently," Dr. Kieny said.

That panel, which met in early August, concluded that, under the circumstances of this Ebola outbreak, and provided certain conditions are met, it is ethical to offer such unproven interventions as potential treatments or for prevention of infection.

This week's meeting to discuss potential Ebola therapies and vaccines was called in response to "intense public interest in, and demand for, anything that offers hope of definitive treatment," a WHO news release says. "A range of unproven interventions — blood products, immune therapies, drugs, and vaccines[ — ]are under different stages of development but none have yet been licensed for standard use."

The meeting brought together technical experts from companies and organizations developing Ebola interventions, as well as policy-makers from Ebola-affected countries, ethicists, clinicians, researchers, regulators, and patient representatives.

The current West African Ebola outbreak is unprecedented in size, complexity, and the strain it has imposed on health systems, Dr. Kieny noted. More people have fallen ill and died in this outbreak than in any other outbreak, she said.

Earlier this week, the WHO said the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa is racing ahead of control efforts.

"One of the things driving fear and panic in communities and the world is the belief that there is no treatment for Ebola virus disease. However, tremendous work is being done to accelerate our knowledge of potential Ebola interventions and give us some promising tools," Dr. Kieny said.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.