Accelerated clinical trials will be launched in West Africa to speed the search for a treatment for the deadly Ebola virus, Doctors Without Borders announced Thursday.
The international humanitarian group said it will host clinical trials starting next month in three Ebola treatment centers using experimental drugs that haven't been through the usual lengthy process of study with animals and healthy people.
Separate trials will be led by three different research partners and involve the U.N. World Health Organization and health officials in affected countries.
"If we're going to find a treatment, we have to do it now - which is why we have to accelerate these trials," said Peter Horby, the chief investigator for the trial led by Oxford University.
Oxford's trial will test the antiviral drug brincidofovir in Liberia.
France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research will conduct a trial using the antiviral drug favipiravir in Gueckedou, Guinea, and the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine will test convalescent whole blood and plasma therapy in Guinea.
Results from some of the trials are expected by February or March.
The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola has raged for more than eight months, killing more than 5,000 people and infecting more than 14,000 in West Africa.
The United Nations has appointed an Ebola chief and various governments have set up clinics. But medical teams are stretched thin and the U.N. health agency WHO says there are not enough foreign medical workers.
There are no established drugs for Ebola. Human testing of a handful of experimental drugs for Ebola has begun on several continents. The current outbreak kills between 50 and 80 percent of those infected in West Africa, according to Doctors Without Borders.
While some areas of Liberia, the country hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak, have seen declines in new infections, new hotspots are emerging.
On Wednesday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited Grand Cape Mount County, currently one of the most intense pockets of transmission, but she expressed optimism that the country as a whole is moving in the right direction. She also visited a site where the U.S. military is putting up an Ebola treatment center, one of 17 it is building in the country.
"We have now reached the peak of what they call turning the curve, so we are now about to turn the curve," Sirleaf said, noting that 10 of 15 counties reported no new transmission in recent days.
Experts have cautioned that such gains could easily be reversed, and now is not the time to let up. Sirleaf also urged people to continue to wash their hands frequently and to avoid contact with the sick and dead, even quizzing motorcycle drivers about whether they would carry sick people on their bikes, which the public had been warned against doing.