Scientists Discover Anti-Ebola Virus Activity in Approved Drugs

Drugs Have Potential to Be Rapidly Advanced to Clinical Use
June 3, 2015
​Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues have identified 80 currently licensed drugs that demonstrated antiviral activity against Zaire ebolavirus in laboratory testing. The finding is important because currently there are no medications licensed to treat or prevent Ebola virus infection, and the drug development process can be costly and time-consuming. Approved drugs have well-established safety profiles for their indications. If they also demonstrate anti-Ebola activity, the medications could, if necessary, be further evaluated for safety and tested in accelerated clinical trials for efficacy in prevention or treatment for Ebola virus infection, according to the findings appearing in the June 3rd issue of Science Translational Medicine.

The scientists screened 2,600 drugs approved to treat a wide range of conditions-from hypertension to breast cancer-to identify eighty that demonstrated antiviral activity against the Zaire strain of Ebola virus, which has killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa since 2014. Using a mouse model of Ebola virus infection, the researchers confirmed the protective ability of several drugs. Specifically, they found that four medications-bepridil (a hypertension treatment), sertraline (an antidepressant), clomiphene citrate (a medication used to stimulate ovulation) and toremifene citrate (a breast cancer treatment)-inhibited the Ebola viral entry process and demonstrated significant survival benefits in mice. Bepridil and sertraline also showed broad-spectrum antiviral activity against multiple strains of Ebola virus.

Moving forward, the scientists plan to conduct additional safety testing of the drugs as Ebola countermeasures and will evaluate them for further evidence of Ebola antiviral activity. Additionally, the researchers will work to determine which products may be used alone or in combination to treat Ebola virus disease.

L Johansen, LE DeWald et al. A screen of approved drugs and molecular probes identifies therapeutics with anti-Ebola virus activity. Science Translational Medicine DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaa5597 (2015).

NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and Gene Olinger, Ph.D., a co-author on the paper from NIAID's Integrated Research Facility, are available to comment.

Content last reviewed on June 3, 2015