Four days after launching what could be a medical breakthrough for Ebola survivors, the principal investigators for the PREVAIL Natural History Study and Persistent Ebola Virus Study yesterday provided more details about the studies at the Ministry of Information's regular press briefing in Monrovia.
The Co-Principal Investigator for the Persistent Ebola Virus Study (PREVAIL IV), Dr. Dehkontee Gayedyu-Dennis, said because the Ebola virus may stay hidden in certain parts of the body and bodily fluids, such as semen, even after a person recovers from Ebola, scientists are hard at work to develop drugs to tackle the virus.
Dr. Dennis said the virus can persist because the body's immune system cannot easily reach and fight off the virus hiding in these protected places, a release said yesterday.
She said as a result, the PREVAIL IV study was developed. According to her, the study is particularly designed to find out if an investigational drug called GS-5734 can safely get rid of or reduce the amount of Ebola virus that may persist in the semen of some male Ebola survivors.
Dr. Dennis, who is also the site physician for the PREVAIL Natural History Study at the Duport Road Health Center, further disclosed that the drug has been used before in the United States and in Guinea.
The drug was used on compassionate grounds to treat a Scottish nurse who had recovered from Ebola but had an Ebola virus relapse, and to help treat a baby in Guinea who had the virus. The drug is manufactured by the U.S. biopharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences, based in California.
She called on survivors to enroll in the study. The side effect for the drug is mild to moderate, which includes reduced appetite, constipation, headache and nausea. But these side effects go away within days. She stated, however, that not all persons will experience all these side effects.
To enroll in the study, a survivor must have already enrolled in the Ebola Natural History Study or PREVAIL III, with evidence of the Ebola virus present in one or two semen samples taken within 42 days of enrollment.
"For this study, we are going to enroll 60 to 120 male survivors who are 18 years or older. In addition, they must also meet all the eligibility criteria to ensure that they have no liver or kidney problems. The study will last for about six to seven months," Dr. Dennis said.
For her part, the Co-Principal Investigator for PREVAIL IV, Dr. Elizabeth Higgs, who is also the Global Health Advisor at the US National Institutes of Health, praised the PREVAIL partnership for conducting the high level research; and the Ministry of Health for the cooperation.
She said the Liberian and US staff are working together and are meeting all ethical and regulatory frameworks to ensure that the study continues to meet international standards.
She said although there are no new Ebola cases in Liberia and the region, scientists will continue to work on vaccines and therapeutics to prevent future outbreaks. She said PREVAIL has worked on a candidate; has a good safety record; and has the potential of being effective against Ebola.
Earlier, the Principal Investigator for the Ebola Natural History Study, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, said efforts are being made to provide not only vaccines for prevention but also medical care for survivors.
He spoke of the various sub-studies being conducted by PREVAIL to find out why after recovering from Ebola, many survivors are experiencing a range of health problems. These sub-studies include the eye, neurology, semen, birth cohorts and now the Persistent Virus Study.