Guest post by Nathan Seppa
Using a tiny piece of RNA, scientists have stopped a close cousin of the Ebola virus in a test on monkeys. The target, Marburg virus, causes hemorrhagic fever with mortality rates often on a par with Ebola.
Scientists exposed 21 rhesus macaque monkeys to Marburg virus, then treated 16 of them with the prospective drug, a short piece of RNA that interferes with the virus’ replication. Some monkeys got the treatment a few hours after infection, others 1, 2 or 3 days later. All 16 treated animals survived while the five untreated controls died within 9 days, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals in Burnaby, British Columbia report August 20 in Science Translational Medicine.
Tekmira’s RNA interference technology has also shown promise against Ebola and appears to be headed for rapid safety testing in human volunteers in response to the West African Ebola outbreak. The experimental drug has now succeeded even when started in monkeys that were already sick with these viruses, says study coauthor Thomas Geisbert, a virologist at UT Galveston. “This demonstrates the strength of this particular technology,” he says.