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Experimental Ebola Drug Puts Its Maker, Chimerix, Back in the Spotlight

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Just seven months ago, executives at the biotechnology company Chimerix were receiving death threats after refusing to provide its experimental drug to a 7-year-old boy who was close to dying from a viral infection.

The refusal set off a fierce social media campaign and subjected the company to unfavorable news coverage. Chimerix quickly found a way to provide the drug to the boy, Josh Hardy of Virginia, who then recovered.

Now Chimerix is back in the news, but in a more positive way. That same antiviral drug has suddenly become the medicine of choice for Ebola, being used on an emergency basis to treat both the Liberian patient in Dallas andthe NBC News cameraman in Nebraska.

What is remarkable is that the drug, with the unwieldy name brincidofovir, has never before been tested in people with Ebola, and there is not even any data available showing that it works in animals infected with the virus.

That is a sign of the paucity of options. No approved treatments for Ebola exist. And the supply of what some experts consider the most promising experimental drug, ZMapp, was exhausted after only seven patients used it.

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It’s probably the treatment of choice because it’s available,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

But he said that brincidofovir interfered with the workings of Ebola in test-tube studies. The drug also has been tested against other viruses in more than 1,000 people in total, showing signs of effectiveness and proving relatively safe.

Among the other Ebola treatments being tested, an experimental drug from Tekmira Pharmaceuticals was able to protect monkeys from the virus under certain conditions and was used to treat Dr. Rick Sacra, an American aid worker stricken with the virus in Liberia. He recovered at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, though it is not clear how much the drug contributed to that.

But the Tekmira drug, TKM-Ebola, can have side effects that might have dissuaded the doctors and families from using it to treat the Dallas patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, who is in critical condition, and the freelance NBC News cameraman, Ashoka Mukpo, who was admitted to the special biocontainment unit at the Nebraska Medical Center on Monday.

“There’s no clear choice of what to use; no one really knows,” Mr. Mukpo’s father, Dr. Mitchell Levy, said Tuesday. He said that since his son’s illness was not very advanced, he favored brincidofovir because it “has the lowest side-effect profile.”

Joseph T. Schepers, a spokesman for Chimerix, said the company was in discussion with various organizations about deploying the drug in Africa. He said the company was also moving quickly to conduct a clinical trial with Ebola patients in the United States.

Brincidofovir would have several advantages over some of the other possible treatments for use in Africa. It is a tablet rather than an injection or infusion. And it appears that it can be readily manufactured.

Joshua E. Schimmer, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, and Y. Katherine Xu, an analyst at William Blair, said in separate reports on Monday that Chimerix could win a contract to supply the federal government’s stockpile of drugs for bioterror attacks and health emergencies.


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