Experimental drugs tested in African Ebola outbreak

There are several Ebola drugs in development and they're starting to reach struggling victims, especially Western aid workers, who agree to participate in ad hoc trials.

NBC's Maggie Fox has an interesting piece about this, which starts with the story of one charity doctor requesting that a promising experimental "serum" (details on what exactly the drug was aren't available), of which there was only enough for one person, be given to his ailing colleague. The doctor, himself, opted to try another experimental treatment — an infusion of blood from an Ebola survivor.

Companies may provide experimental drugs for use on a compassionate basis in cases of dire need. In this case, U.S. regulators may not need to become involved because the patients are not in the United States.

Some of the drugs are based on antibodies that are produced naturally by the body during infection. In some infections, antibodies from a survivor can help a patient fight infection. But Thomas Geisbert of the University of Texas Medical Branch, who is working to develop both drugs and vaccines for Ebola, said that is not a tried-and-true approach.

"It is a very controversial topic if you are talking about the serum from a survivor," Geisbert said. His team tried it in monkeys and it did not help them.