Leukemia drugs may stop deadly Ebola virus, US researchers say

A chicken stands with a piglet at a small family farm outside the quarantined commercial pig farm infected with Ebola-Reston virus in Pandi town north of Manila on January 8, 2009.

Some cancer drugs may also help stop the rare but deadly Ebola virus, which in up to 90 percent of cases causes a sufferer to bleed to death.

US researchers a pair of well-known drugs used to treat leukemia — known as nolitinib and imatinib — appear to have had success in stopping the virus from replicating in human cells, News24.com reported.

The drugs — nilotinib or imatinib, sold by Novartis as Tasigna and Gleevec — topped the release of viral particles from infected cells in lab dishes, researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases wrote in the journal Science Translational Medicine, according to Bloomberg.

The same result in a person might prevent Ebola from spreading in the body and give the immune system time to control it, the researchers led by Mayra Garcia wrote. 

According to NPR, the Ebola virus needs the help of cells it invades to reproduce, and Gleevec and Tasigna "tweak a human protein that new copies of the virus use to leave their host cells so they can infect others."

In other words, the researchers think the drugs "could turn off a transport protein and could keep new viruses bottled up inside cells."

"Our results suggest that short-term administration of nilotinib or imatinib may be useful in treating Ebola virus infections," the researchers wrote.

Ebola, which emerged in Africa in the 1970s — and is believed to live in several species of fruit bat — is considered a potential weapon for bioterrorists because, News24 wrote, "it is so highly contagious, so lethal and has no standard treatment."

News24 cited the UN's World Health Organisation as reporting about 1,850 cases of Ebola occurring since 1976, with about 1,200 deaths resulting.