Jonathan Lai, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, has spearheaded the development of a potential antibody therapy for the Sudan strain of the Ebola virus, one of the two most lethal strains, and is also working on antibodies that can fight multiple strains. (The Zaire ebolavirus is the strain responsible for the current epidemic in West Africa.)
“The Sudan strain can be associated with large outbreaks, including what was —before this epidemic—the largest ever outbreak of an Ebola virus in 2000, but there are few antibodies available for it,” says Dr. Lai. All the experimental antibody treatments used during this current outbreak (including ZMapp and TKM-Ebola) would not work on the other strains. Dr. Lai recently received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for this research.
Dr. Lai’s lab is also looking to find an antibody or cocktail of antibodies that not only fights the Sudan strain, but multiple species of Ebola simultaneously. “We think it would be very useful to have a therapy in place that works against all Ebola virus species,” Lai says.
Dr. Lai can speak to the advancements and challenges of developing antibody treatments for Ebola, and provide general insight into convalescent serum therapy, which is the WHO-recommended front-line therapy for this current outbreak.