Two Ebola drugs found to increase survival rates

A woman and child wait to receive the Ebola vaccination in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, August 5, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 August 2019

Two Ebola drugs found to increase survival rates

  • More than 1,800 people have died in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since Ebola broke out there in August last year
  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals, then spreads among humans through direct contact with the blood or other secretions of infected people

WASHINGTON: Scientists were a step closer to an effective treatment for Ebola after two drugs in a clinical trial were found to significantly boost survival rates, the US health authority co-funding the research said Monday.
The study began last November in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but its current phase has been halted and all future patients switched over to the treatments that have shown positive results, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said in a statement.
REGN-EB3 and mAb114 “are the first drugs that, in a scientifically sound study, have clearly shown a significant diminution in mortality for people with Ebola virus disease,” Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told AFP.
Patients who were receiving two other drugs that are being discontinued, Zmapp and remdesivir, will now have the option at the discretion of their treating physician to receive the treatments that have been shown to work.
Fauci explained that the trial was designed to include 725 people, but was halted by an independent board when it had enrolled 681 people because at that point, one of the drugs, REGN-EB3 by Regeneron, reached a critical threshold in success, while mAb114 was not far behind.
Data has so far been analyzed for 499 people from the cohort of 681.
In this group, mortality dropped to 29 percent with REGN-EB3 and with mAb114 it fell to 34 percent, said Fauci — compared to a rate of between 60 and 67 percent in the general population when the disease is not treated by a drug.
The rates for Zmapp and remdesivir were 49 percent and 53 percent respectively.
REGN-EB3, mAb114 and Zmapp are monoclonal antibodies that bind to glycoprotein on the Ebola virus and neutralize its ability to infect other cells.
Fauci added that the final analysis of the data, including the patients not yet processed, would occur in late September or early October, after which the complete results would be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed medical literature.
The NIH, Democratic Republic of Congo health authorities and the World Health Organization hailed the “extraordinary team of individuals who have worked under extremely difficult conditions to carry out this study,” as well as the patients and their families.

Jeremy Farrar, director of Britain’s Wellcome Trust research charity, said the development would “undoubtedly save lives,” adding: “Thanks to this trial, we are starting to understand which treatments to offer to patients in this and future outbreaks.”
More than 1,800 people have died in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since Ebola broke out there in August last year.
The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals, then spreads among humans through direct contact with the blood or other secretions of infected people or with surfaces contaminated with their fluids, according to the World Health Organization.
The latest trial demonstrates “you can dramatically diminish the mortality,” said Fauci, “but getting rid of the Ebola virus becomes a (case of) prevention, of how you could prevent this from spreading.”
“The best way to end the outbreak is with a good vaccine, as well as to do good contact tracing, isolation, and then, ultimately, treatment.”
Health authorities are currently investigating several vaccine candidates.


Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

Updated 19 August 2019

Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

  • Early-warning system lets farmers know when to protect their crops from fruit flies
  • Mobile app tells them the best time to spray pesticides to halt their advance

DUBAI: An award-winning startup led by two female Lebanese engineers has created an automated early-warning system that allows Middle East farmers to protect their crops against the Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most destructive pests.

Fruit flies can devastate entire harvests and have infested over 300 types of vegetables, fruits and nuts globally, causing financial ruin to countless farmers in the Arab world.

However, an ingenious system designed by Nisrine El Turky, a computer engineer and university professor, and Christina Chaccour, an electrical engineer, will tell farmers via text messages and mobile app of the best time to spray pesticides to halt the pests’ advance.

“Many Lebanese farmers weren’t able to export apples because the quality of their produce wasn’t good enough,” said El Turky, co-founder of IO Tree.

“So many I met were desperate to sell a crate of apples for $2 (SR7.50), which is nothing. I wanted to help the sector by better integrating technology.”

Farmers were found spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies. (Shutterstock)

She began by investigating the difficulties that farmers faced, attending workshops and seminars, and visiting farms. She found the main problem was that farmers were spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies.

“I found a way that could reduce the use of pesticides and increase production.”

El Turky began working on the IO Tree concept in February 2018 and swiftly built a working prototype, which she showed to Chaccour, who promptly joined the company as a co-founder.

IO Tree’s technology is being tested on farms in Lebanon and the Netherlands. There are two prototype machines — one for indoor use and another for outdoor. The machines can be placed in an orchard, field or greenhouse.

“We need to ensure that the prototype functions in all conditions. Outdoors, there is sun, dust, rain and other weather factors that could disrupt its operation,” said El Turky, who still works up to 10 hours a week as a lecturer at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University.

Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, the machine’s sensors monitor indicators such as temperature and moisture, as well as studying plant stress.

The system can detect and identify pests, providing data on the likely scale of an imminent pest invasion and the best action the farmer should take to combat it. Information is conveyed to the farmer via IO Tree’s app.

“If you’re using pesticides, our app will tell you the best pesticide to use to tackle that problem, the quantity you need and when to spray.”

IO Tree’s sensors use machine learning to measure plant stress. (Supplied photo)

EL Turky said her technology had shown over 90 percent accuracy in identifying medflies.

“Machine learning means that every day the system becomes more accurate,” she said.

“We’re also working on identifying other pests, but medfly is our main target. Once medflies arrive at a farm, they will eat everything.”

IO Tree will enable farmers to use fewer pesticides, reducing environmental damage, while produce will be in better condition and can command a higher sales price.

“By using fewer pesticides, farmers will be better able to preserve biodiversity: Spraying kills a lot more insects than just pests,” she said. IO Tree has initially targeted all types of fruit trees, plus tomatoes and cucumbers, and the product will be launched commercially in September.

“We’re aiming at farmers directly,” said El Turky.

IO Tree’s services will be sold via subscription. After a farmer signs up for one year initially, the company will install its machines at the farm. The number of machines required per acre depends on crop type, crop yield, land topography and other factors.

The company’s initial target market is the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, though it also plans to expand to Europe and eventually worldwide.

The product’s potential has helped IO Tree win a string of startup competitions. It was selected to represent Lebanon GSVC 2019 (Global Social Venture Competition) at the University of California, Berkeley.

IO Tree also joined Lebanon’s Agrytech accelerator, which provided $44,000 in funding, and schooled the fledgling entrepreneurs in how to create and manage a startup.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.