New Ebolavirus treatment sees the light thanks to basic research performed in Ticino


Institutional Communication Service

5 January 2021

While populations around the world are being vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced the approval of a treament against another well-known virus, much less widespread but extremely lethal: Ebola. The new drug was made possible thanks to the fundamental work performed at the laboratories of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB, affiliated to USI) and Humabs BioMed (subsidiary of the U.S. Vir Biotechnology) in Bellinzona.

The drug is called Ebanga and is produced by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP, a U.S. company based in Miami, Florida, specialising in antiviral drugs and therapies. In late December, the FDA announced approval of Ebanga for the treatment of Zaire ebolavirus (Ebolavirus) infection in adults and children. Ebanga blocks binding of the virus to the cell receptor, preventing its entry into the cell.

The new drug is based on the monoclonal antibody mAb114, which was isolated and characterised at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB, affiliated to Università della Svizzera italiana) in collaboration with Humabs BioMed SA (subsidiary of Vir Biotechnology Inc. of San Francisco) and the NIH (U.S. National Institutes of Health).

The results of the work carried out in Bellinzona, in addition to being published in the prestigious scientific journals Science in 2016 and The Lancet in January 2019 (further reading >>, contributed to the successful outcome of clinical field trials coordinated by the NIH in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a new outbreak of the deadly virus broke out in 2018. This successful outcome was also made possible by the significant support over the years from DARPA (U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

This is the first monotherapy for the treatment of Ebola to be approved (treatment based on a single antibody).