Treating Ebola with Heart Disease Medication Gets a Thumbs Up

Although a promising Ebola vaccine trial was recently closed, a different type of drug may prove to be an effective treatment for the deadly disease.

Although a promising Ebola vaccine trial was recently closed, a different type of drug may prove to be an effective treatment for the deadly disease.

Led by David S. Fedson, MD, a team of researchers reporting for the American Society for Microbiology found that generic medications used for cardiovascular conditions are a novel way to treat the Ebola virus. The new study examined how statins and angiotensin receptor blockers, typically used for heart disease, work against the virus. This drug combination works differently than other developing Ebola medications because it goes after the host response as opposed to the virus itself. The 2 medications help the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels, which if impaired can cause severe fluid loss and is a main feature in Ebola.

“We have extraordinary medicines that cardiovascular scientists have developed which modify not just endothelial function but all kinds of things that are part of the host response to infectious disease,” Fedson, a retired professor of medicine at the University of Virginia, said in a news release.

The team provided 40 mg of atorvastatin and 150 mg of irbesartan per day to 100 patients with Ebola in Sierra Leone. Pairing the drugs together increased the likelihood of survival and the patients’ conditions rapidly improved. According to the report published in mBio, 2 patients succumbed to the disease, although one had initially responded to the medication combination but then relapsed.

The atorvastatin and irbesartan treatment is not a cure to Ebola, however it provides time which is a crucial factor in serious situations.

“It could allow individual patients to survive long enough to develop an immune response that eliminates the virus,” Fedson explained. “These agents could be used in combination with antivirals if they are available.”

Besides these hopeful results, there are various other advantages to using the cardiovascular drugs. Not only are they inexpensive, but many physicians who treat heart conditions are already familiar with them. Furthermore, since the combination therapy attacks the host response in infection, it may be a strategy to use for various other infectious diseases.

Fedson recommends 4 steps for future research including:

  • Research the host response to Ebola
  • Conduct clinical studies of the drug combination in West Africa
  • Implement successful treatments in the host response in more trials
  • Note how the results can be used against other diseases