Southwest Research Institute, Texas Biomed snag $3.4M grant to fight Ebola

The Ebola virus.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has awarded a $3.4 million grant to the Southwest Research Institute and Texas Biomedical Research Institute to fight the Ebola virus.

The research by the two Lone Star State research entities will combine two available medication and study the effectiveness of the combination against the deadly virus. The grant is a one-year contract with two additional option years.

Currently, there are no proven treatments for Ebola and outbreaks can cause fatalities up to 90%. Southwest Research will create a more easily absorbed formulation of the Japanese drug cepharanthine that has been used for more than 40 years to treat a variety of illnesses and conditions, from radiation-induced leukopenia to venomous snakebites.

Texas Biomed discovered the drug was effective in treating Ebola, but required high doses. With a new formulation of cepharanthine combined with chloroquine, which is used to treat malaria, researchers will being efficacy testing.

“After reading that chloroquine combined with cepharanthine had a synergistic effect in treating malaria we put two and two together and wanted to test the idea that this combination could create a powerful Ebola virus inhibitor cocktail,” Dr. Robert Davey, chair of the department of Virology and Immunology at Texas Biomed, said in a statement.

With the advent of the Zika virus and the waning of the Ebola epidemic, researchers have warned  of a decline in research to combat future outbreaks. About 13 Ebola drug candidates have made it to Phase I or Phase II trials, but only a handful of Big Pharmas, including Merck ($MRK), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), have advanced into Phase III.

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