In a new research, scientists said the painkiller ibuprofen and the chemotherapy drug toremifene can “disable” the Ebola virus.
Oxford University’s Professor Dave Stuart, who led the research team, told the BBC, “They destabilize the protein. It [the protein] has one shot at it [infecting the host cell], and if it doesn't hit the target then those viruses would be inactivated.”
The Ebola virus attaches itself to the host using a glycoprotein when it first infects the cell. Stuart and his team acquired the highest resolution of the structure of the glycoprotein using the U.K.'s national synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source. This led to the researchers discovering the virus’ Achilles heel. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Ibuprofen and toremifene, which researchers had earlier found effective in reducing infection in rodents, can bind in a buried pocket of the glycoprotein. According to Stuart, this binding pushes the glycoprotein into a state where it can’t infect the host cells.
“It’s unlikely these compounds, as they are now, would be useful drugs for Ebola,” Stuart told the BBC. “For an effective drug, you would want to increase the binding strength significantly. But seeing how they bind could allow stronger binding compounds to be developed using standard techniques.”
Researchers, however, warn that this is just a starting point and more effective drugs would need to be created. Both ibuprofen and toremifene have a relatively weak effect so they are unlikely to be useful treatments. Treatments would require huge, toxic doses to affect the course of the infection.
Ibuprofen made headlines earlier when it was revealed that people who contracted Ebola in West Africa could get through airport screenings and onto a plane if they had consumed a lot of ibuprofen.
"The fever-screening instruments run low and aren't that accurate," Sean Kaufman, president of Behavioral-Based Improvement Solutions and infection control specialist, told Reuters.
More than 11,300 people died in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that started in March 2014. The epidemic primarily struck Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Ebola, researchers believe, is first transmitted to humans from an infected animal, such as a bat, but then spreads among people through direct contact with bodily fluids like blood and objects like needles. Symptoms include fever, vomiting and inexplicable bleeding and bruising. The average survival rate is about 50 percent.