Dr. Christopher Basler, a professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University, director of the university’s Center for Microbial Pathogenesis and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Microbial Pathogenesis, has received a five-year, $4.1 million federal grant to develop a drug targeting Ebola virus.
“We still lack any approved drugs to treat Ebola virus infection,” Basler said. “Ebola remains a significant concern. The outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016 drives home the significance of Ebola as a public health threat. We need vaccines and drugs to treat the infections. There’s been more progress on the vaccine front than treatment, but hopefully, we’ll come up with new strategies that may lead to new drugs.”
The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa was the largest known occurrence of the disease and resulted in more than 28,000 infections and 11,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. History shows that Ebola virus periodically reemerges.
“I think given the history, we can expect Ebola virus and other related viruses to come back,” Basler said. “To me, that drives home the importance of having ways to respond.”
The grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, will support Basler’s work to target the viral machinery that Ebola uses to make new copies of its genome, a critical function for the virus to grow and spread. The goal is to find drug compounds that block the growth of Ebola virus.
“One of the complications with Ebola is that you need special high containment labs to work with the live virus,” Basler said. “So our strategy was to try to break the virus down into its different functions in a way that you could study them without creating any infectious material. We’ll define compounds that will inhibit the function of the system that enables growth of the virus and then later test them against the actual live virus.”