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Blood Pressure Pills and Antidepressants Are Surprisingly Effective Against Ebola

Two widely-used prescription drugs, Zoloft, a popular antidepressant, and Vascor, a blood pressure medication, might be our answer in the fight against Ebola.

ByAbbey InterranteNOVA NextNOVA Next
zoloft
Zoloft, an antidepressant, was among the promising candidates.

What if tens of millions of prescriptions have already been filled for a cure for Ebola?

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Two widely-used prescription drugs, Zoloft, a popular antidepressant, and Vascor, a blood pressure medication, might be our answer in the fight against Ebola as researchers work to repurpose drugs that have already been approved for use in humans.

Armed with a list of Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs, food additives, and herbs, researchers have come up with compounds that could fight Ebola. All 2,635 compounds were tested in cell cultures, and 171 of them showed some activity against Ebola. Eighty of the effective compounds were FDA-approved drugs.

From that list, 30 of the most promising compounds were tested on mice infected with Ebola. Many worked well, but Zoloft and Vascor, a calcium channel blocker that lowers blood pressure in heart patients, were the most notable. In the mice given Zoloft, 70% survived, and in the mice given Vascor, a remarkable 100% survived. All of the mice that weren’t given treatment died within 10 days, according to the study published by Science Translational Medicine.

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Despite the positive results, it’s still going to be a while before we know if these drugs will work in humans—there are many more stages before they can be used to treat Ebola patients, including testing on guinea pigs and primates. Scientists still need to learn why these drugs interfered with the progression of the virus. However, using an already FDA-approved drug will only speed up the process.

Ariana Eunjung Cha, reporting for the Washington Post, explains more:

Using an approved drug to treat a novel disease has many advantages for both practical and scientific reasons. It’s easier to create stockpiles of pills or injections if factories are set up to the right standards and there would be less paperwork and other time-consuming bureaucracy to get through. Moreover, there would be less worry about toxic side effects since drugs on the market have already been proved safe for use in humans.

The data sets are being posted online in the hopes that other scientists might spot something that the researchers missed, perhaps shedding light on why these drugs worked and what other combinations might be even more successful.