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Army one step closer to treatment against deadly Marburg virus

FREDERICK, Md. — A drug developed in partnership with the Army is proving effective in protecting lab animals from the deadly Marburg virus, according to a published study.

According to the Army, the drug, known as BCX4430, interferes with the Marburg virus by preventing it from replicating its genetic material when injected into lab monkeys for as long as 48 hours after infection. The study was published Sunday in the online journal Nature.

All six animals that received BCX4430 within 48 hours post-infection survived, said Travis Warren, a principal researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. 

The drug works by using a compound that “tricks” the virus during the RNA replication process by mimicking it, Warren said.

Once the virus incorporates BCX4430 into its RNA, the virus is forced to end further replication, Warren said. If the virus can't effectively replicate its RNA genome, it can't produce more infectious virus.

“It has no other options than to end that replication cycle,” Warren said.

Marburg causes hemorrhagic fever and has a 90 percent fatality rate in humans. The virus poses a global threat because of its potential use as a biological weapon. There are no current known vaccines or therapies available.

A 2012 outbreak of Marburg virus infection in Uganda killed 15 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 15 confirmed cases and eight suspected cases that year, according to CDC.

The drug was developed in partnership with the Durham, N.C.-based BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. and MedExpert Consulting Inc. in Indiatlantic, Fla.

BioCryst CEO Jon Stonehouse said it is continuing its studies with USAMRIID. The study also found that the drug protected guinea pigs exposed to Marburg via inhalation, according to the USAMRIID news release. Warren said the drug has also shown efficacy in protecting laboratory mice from Ebola infection and could have other implications in protecting against other viruses, including the Sudan and Bundibugyo viruses.

USAMRIID's mission is to protect the war fighter from biological threats and investigate disease outbreaks and public health threats. BioCryst owns the drug but didn't have the biosafety level 4 capacity to test it, Warren said. USAMRIID has several biosafety level 3 and 4 labs in which employees wear protective equipment in containment while working with some of the world's most dangerous pathogens.

The drug could be helpful in protecting U.S. soldiers in the field, as well as public health and other emergency responders in areas where outbreaks may occur.

“It's a broad-spectrum anti-viral,” Stonehouse said. The U.S. could stockpile the drug to protect against several viruses, “which is obviously more cost-efficient.”

Stonehouse said his pharmaceutical company has also received $22 million from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to help it pursue U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. A Phase I clinical trial in humans could begin as early as next year, Stonehouse said.
 

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