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New ebola drug appears somewhat effective

Drug trails in Guinea of a new ebola drug suggest that it might have some positive effect on mortality.

A researcher who had seen the data and asked not to be identified told Science that favipiravir did not help all of the patients treated with it at two trial sites in Guinea. In a subset of trial participants who had low levels of Ebola virus in the blood, however, the mortality was just 15%. In similar patients who entered the centers earlier and did not receive favipiravir, mortality was 30%.

The trials with this drug are being conducted without a control group, which makes it harder to pin down the cause of these results. The article also describes several other drugs being readied for testing, some of which are expected to be more effective.

The trials, however, are faced with two issues. First, the easing of the epidemic is making it more difficult to do the studies. And second,

So far, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where Ebola is still infecting dozens of people a week, have refused invitations to join the study. Their main stumbling block is trial design. ZMapp will be the first Ebola treatment that will be tested against a placebo control. “I think that’s the only way to tell whether these drugs are safe and effective,” Lane says. The governments of Guinea and Sierra Leone, as well as Doctors Without Borders, which runs Ebola centers in those countries, have for ethical reasons been reluctant to participate in treatment trials that use a placebo.

The moral dilemma of doing drug tests where some patients get a placebo has always been a problem for medical research. It is therefore not surprising to see it here as well.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

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One comment

  • Edward

    > The moral dilemma of doing drug tests where some patients get a placebo has always been a problem for medical research.

    The alternative being to not have *any* patients in Guinea and Sierra Leone receive the drug that they think may work? Does the pharmaceutical company have enough of he drug to go to *all* patients in those two countries, but the necessity of a control group requires that they not use it all? In that case, I can see that a dilemma could exist, but if there isn’t enough to go around, then what is the dilemma? Random selection assures that there are no “favored” patients (although if the drug isn’t safe, after all, then which patient was favored?), so properly done, the doctors can’t be worried that the rich or powerful will be favored, or whatever other ethical dilemma could exist along that line.

    Is not the moral dilemma the one where a drug is *not* tested but merely assumed to work? If we give a failed drug to most or all patients, then those patients may not receive other forms of treatment that otherwise could work, or the drug could be worse than the current treatments, and we wouldn’t determine that without control groups.

    The test for safety and effectiveness is a requirement to assure everyone that patients are not receiving “snake oil” medicines. There is no moral dilemma in assuring that medications, treatments, surgeries, etc. are safe and effective. If we were sure that new drugs worked without trials, then we wouldn’t have the trail process in place.

    It is thinking like this that leave us with scientific hoaxes and myths that people wholeheartedly believe to be true. For instance, despite the urban myth for almost half a century, the mathematics shows that bees *can* fly.

    I now have a lowered level of respect for Doctors Without Borders.

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