Emory University is becoming a one-stop shop for tackling Ebola. The hospital’s infectious disease team has already treated four patients with Ebola, and now a team of biochemists known for their work on HIV wants to take on Ebola.
Scientists at Emory’s Children’s Center for Drug Discovery have extensively studied the development of drugs for HIV that stop the replication of the virus in the body. The center provided breakthroughs for HIV drug development and, more recently, the development of a drug for Hepatitis C. The viruses, though different, have similar replicating mechanisms (viral RNA replication), and now they think they can do it for Ebola.
The team, led by director Baek Kim, is fast-tracking a program to screen a library of over 10,000 chemical compounds that can treat viruses at the molecular level to see if one or more of them may show promise with Ebola. “We need to start screening many, many compounds,” says Kim, anywhere from 500 to 10,000 of them—each of which will be evaluated one by one. Emory chemist Raymond F. Schinazi, who discovered compounds used in multiple very successful anti-HIV drugs, will be working with five to 10 virologists, chemists and biochemists to get the job done.
And if a compound that can treat Ebola is identified and tested on a live virus in a lab, the next step would be to get that compound into a drug of some kind, and then test it in a clinical trial in West Africa.
And while there are ongoing trials in the works for an Ebola vaccine and industry and scientists are racing to find drugs that can treat the virus, Kim’s team and several other research groups nationwide have been eyeing emerging and re-emerging diseases for years. “It’s good to recognize that scientists are the only ones who can initiate solving this problem,” says Kim. “Other pathogens will emerge and re-emerge one day or another, and this is a good exercise in how academics, government and industry can work together toward a single target when we need a fast response.”