Mapp Bio’s Ebola Drug Shows Promise, But Making More Will Take Time
The experimental drug therapy given to two Americans and a Spaniard stricken with the lethal Ebola virus was still in research studies when the Ebola outbreak erupted this year in West Africa.
Most of the available material was “laboratory-grade, not human-grade,” said Erica Ollman Saphire, a structural biologist whose lab at The Scripps Research Institute helped San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical identify antibody targets on the surface of the Ebola virus.
A human trial was scheduled for 2015, and the small amount of human-grade material that was produced has been exhausted, Saphire said. It will take months to make more, because it was derived from genetically engineered tobacco plants that require months to grow.
Saphire, an expert in X-ray crystallography, talked with Xconomy by phone yesterday from upstate New York, where she’s on vacation. She is director of a global consortium that includes 25 research institutes in seven countries working to discover new products and techniques for diagnosing and treating Ebola and related viral hemorrhagic fevers. The NIH provided a five-year grant in March for as much as $28 million to identify monoclonal antibodies that can be used to fight Ebola and related viruses.
ZMapp, the drug developed by Mapp Bio that was administered to the three Christian aid workers, is a drug cocktail that combines three “humanized” monoclonal antibodies. Mapp Bio and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases had developed one of the monoclonal antibodies, Sapphire said. The other two came from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Mapp Bio provided the doses of ZMapp that were given earlier this month to Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, the volunteer missionaries who were helping to care for Ebola patients in Liberia. Both were airlifted back to the U.S. after they were given ZMapp, and admitted to a special isolation unit at Emory University hospital in Atlanta.
Brantly is expected to be released soon, according to a statement yesterday from the Christian aid group Samaritan’s Purse, and Writebol is reported to be improving.
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