Zoloft Ebola Cure
Sertralin, a compound used in the antidepressant drug Zoloft, is one of many that could help combat Ebola, according to new research from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Wikipedia Commons

Scientists have been scrambling for months to develop and test a treatment for the Ebola virus, but the solution may have been closer than once thought. New research from scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows that drugs such as Zoloft and Vascor may be able to combat the deadly disease.

“Recent events have demonstrated an urgent need for rapid discovery of new treatments,” they wrote in a paper published this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine. “Repurposing drugs for emerging infections remains a critical resource for potential antiviral therapies.”

A Doctors Without Borders health worker takes off his protective gear under the surveillance of a colleague at a treatment facility for Ebola victims in Monrovia, Liberia, September 2014. The most recent outbreak has killed more than 11,000 people, as researchers continue to hunt for a cure. Reuters/James Giahyue

The worst Ebola outbreak in history has killed 11,162 people and affected more than 27,000 since the first cases were reported more than a year ago in West Africa. Medical researchers around the world have been scrambling to find a treatment for the disease. And while some have found promising candidates, such as ZMapp, they still face a long road ahead to test the drugs on humans, ensure they are safe and get them approved.

For their study, they tested 2,600 other drugs that had already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for other uses. After giving mice a small dose of certain compounds, they recorded 80 that inhibited the progress of the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus.

Ebola Research
Researchers around the world have been scrambling to research, test and get Ebola treatments approved, which can be a time-consuming process. Here, a research assistant works on a vaccine for Ebola at The Jenner Institute in Oxford, southern England, Jan. 16, 2015. Reuters/Eddie Keogh

They found that sertraline, the compound used in the antidepressant Zoloft, was effective in 70 percent of mice, while bepridil, which is used in the heart drug Vascor, cured 100 percent. The drugs were approved by the FDA in 1991 and 1990, respectively.

“Both drugs inhibited [the Ebola virus] entry late in the entry pathway likely by affecting viral fusion,” the paper says, adding that “these drugs offer potential for repurposing for Ebola virus disease, either as single agents or in combinations, and could be used in circumstances similar to the current epidemic.”

For their next steps, the scientists will continue tests to see exactly how the drugs can be used safely to fight the Ebola virus in the future.