Ebola Eludes Drug Testing Once More as Outbreak Tapers Off

(Bloomberg) -- As the Ebola outbreak ebbs in central Africa, the lethal virus has once again evaded testing that’s crucial to developing a cure.

The last suspected case in a contagion that began in May in the Democratic Republic of Congo tested negative on June 12, the World Health Organization said by email this week. If no new patient emerges by July 25, the outbreak will be officially over. The WHO estimates that 24 people survived the infection and 29 died. By contrast, more than 11,000 died in the West African epidemic that ended in 2016.

By the time experimental medicines developed by Gilead Sciences Inc., Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and others reached the region and were cleared for use, the contagion was receding and almost no patients needed them, according to the WHO. That put an end to plans to study them in a public-health crisis.

The drugs include ZMapp, made by closely held Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which was tested too late in the 2016 epidemic to garner conclusive results. Others include Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir and a Regeneron cocktail of three monoclonal antibodies. The local government and WHO are discussing what to do with the medicines left unused.

While the drugs to treat the ill weren’t used, the WHO credited an experimental vaccine from Merck & Co. with helping to contain the outbreak. The vaccine was administered to 3,300 healthy people at risk because they had been in contact with the sick.

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