News Scan for Oct 23, 2019

More DRC Ebola
TB rapid test study
Promising results for new flu antiviral

Ebola case count hits 3,250 in the DRC

According to the World Health Organization's (WHO's) Ebola dashboard today, officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) confirmed 2 new cases of Ebola in a 14-month-long outbreak in that country, raising the total to 3,250 infections.

As reported yesterday, 117 of the cases are considered probable infections. The DRC's Ebola technical committee (CMRE) has not yet posted information on the four new cases described yesterday.

Officials are still investigating 441 suspected cases. The death toll stands at 2,171, which is 1 fewer than posted yesterday.
WHO Ebola dashboard


Early findings promising for TB rapid blood test

A new point-of-care test can distinguish active tuberculosis (TB) from similar diseases in less than an hour, which if advanced through development and approved would meet an important public heath need, researchers reported today in Science Translational Medicine.

Diagnosing active TB is difficult, because several other diseases cause similar symptoms, and better prevention and control hinge on having a test to find cases and flag people at risk for infection.

For the study, an international research team led by the Broad Institute, based at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, examined 406 patients with chronic cough divided into three cohorts using a machine learning technique. They identified four blood proteins that could distinguish active TB from similar diseases. Then they created an ultrasensitive assay to screen for the virus in blood samples. The panel could identify TB infections in 317 samples from patients with persistent cough from Africa, Asia, and South America. The test performed well, regardless of HIV infection status.

When the team added a fifth marker to the panel that can detect antibodies against a mycobacterial antigen, the test became even more accurate, with a sensitivity of 86% and specificity of 69%.

The group concluded that although more work and field testing are needed, the test's performance approaches WHO guidelines and shows promise as a test to triage patients.

The test needs to be studied in a larger group of patients, and its developers are hoping enhancements of a new antibody-based technology called Simoa used to boost the test's performance will eventually make it suitable for use in low-resource settings and lower the cost to $2 per test, according to a Broad Institute report. Michael Gillette, MD, PhD, senior scientist at the Broad Institute and critical care doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in the report there's need for a field test to stratify at-risk populations and make a definitive diagnosis. "We aren't there yet by any means, but our study moves us fundamentally closer to that goal."
Oct 23 Sci Transl Med abstract
Oct 23 Broad Institute news report


Ferret study shows promising for new flu antiviral

A new oral antiviral drug against flu tested in ferrets inhibited replication, dropped viral loads, shortened fever duration compared to controls, and didn't appear to prompt antiviral resistance, researchers based at Georgia State University reported today in Science Translational Medicine.

The drug, called EIDD-2801, blocks flu virus RNA polymerase, which plays a key role in the replication of the flu virus genome. According to the study, the drug causes mutations in the viral genome, which then becomes nonfunctional and cannot replicate.

Researchers tested the drug in ferrets, which are currently the most useful animal model for studying human flu infection. They assessed the drug against various flu strains. Aside from the therapeutic effect in infected ferrets, as compared with controls, the group also found that treatment was effective against multiple flu strains in human airway epithelial cells. Deep sequencing confirmed lethal mutagenesis as the drug's underlying activity mechanism and revealed a barrier to the development of antiviral resistance. The group's work also outlined clues for dosing parameters in humans.

The group concluded that EIDD-2810 is a clinical study candidate and a promising monotherapy for seasonal and pandemic influenza.

Richard Plemper, PhD, senior author of the study and professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University, said in a press release from the school, "We believe that this compound has high clinical potential as a next-generation influenza drug that combines key antiviral features."
Oct 23 Sci Transl Med abstract
Oct 23 Georgia State University press release

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