The experimental drug favipiravir could improve survival rate in Ebola patients, if administered at earlier stages of the disease, a new study by the Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) has claimed.

Led by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) scientists, the trials began at two Ebola treatment centres in Guinea, West Africa, in December 2014, with an aim to assess the efficacy of the treatment.

According to the newly released preliminary results of 80 patients, mortality rates fell from 30% to 15% in patients with a low to moderate Ebola count who received the drug during a three-month period before the start of trial.

"We think this is a sufficiently encouraging sign for it to be made available to Ebola patients more widely."

However, the drug proved to be ineffective in patients with more advanced stages of Ebola Virus Disease.

Inserm scientist Denis Malvy was quoted by Bloomberg as saying: "We have no proof of efficacy, but a signal that monotherapy with favipiravir may have a place in a specific subgroup of patients.

"Early referred patients with not too high viral loads may benefit."

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ALIMA secretary general Augustin Augier told Reuters: "We think this is a sufficiently encouraging sign for it to be made available to Ebola patients more widely."

European Commission Research, Science and Innovation Commissioner Carlos Moedas said: "If these results are confirmed by the ongoing clinical trial, it will be the first-ever treatment to be deployed against this deadly disease during the current outbreak."

Being developed by Toyama Chemical, Favipiravir is an experimental anti-viral drug with activity against many RNA viruses, and has reportedly been used on some Western Ebola patients.

Funded by the European Commission, the trial was supported by aid groups including Doctors Without Borders, Alliance for International Medical Action and the French Red Cross, Bloomberg reported.

The West African Ebola has reportedly infected around 23,000 people and killed more than 9,000, since its outbreak in December 2013.

Image: Electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion. Photo: Courtesy of CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith.