Cancer drugs shown to stop Ebola virus from spreading

According to research from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute's biosafety level-4 lab, two off-the-shelf cancer drugs stopped the Ebola virus from reproducing in a test tube.

This early advance in the defense against the potential biological weapon is promising, given that there are no approved vaccines or treatments against the disease. The study was a collaboration between government scientists and researchers in Atlanta and Houston, My San Antonio reports.

While the two leukemia drugs, imatinib and nilotinib, do not directly attack the virus, they target the patient's infected cells and prevent the virus inside from escaping or reproducing.

"That's a concept that's been attractive for antiviral therapy, because if you can target a cellular protein that's required for the virus, it makes it a little harder for the virus to mutate to develop resistance," Gary Nabel, the leader of the study, said, according to My San Antonio.

The drugs were not able to completely clear the virus, but scientists have learned from outbreaks of the disease in Africa that those with low levels of the virus frequently survive. A short-term course of treatment with the drug could eliminate enough of the Ebola virus to allow the patient's own immune system to successfully defeat the disease.

"Often in this disease if you can just shave a little bit of the viral load off of the infection, if you can just lower it tenfold even, that's what's going to give people a chance to survive it," Nabel said, according to My San Antonio. "That's really what we're aiming to do."

The next step will be testing the treatment in an animal model. The treatment will be approved if it is effective in two animal models. Ebola hemorrhagic fever is often fatal and is one of the most virulent viral diseases in the world.

The study was published on Thursday in Science Translational Medicine.