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ZMapp Ebola Drug Production Set for Texas, Possibly North Carolina

Xconomy Raleigh-Durham — 

A federal initiative to ensure that the United States can respond to biological threats at home will be put to the test in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

A Texas site is preparing to manufacture the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, says Robin Robinson, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Robinson adds that Novartis’s (NYSE: NVS) vaccine facility in North Carolina is a possible second site to make the drug. Those sites were developed previously in partnership with a U.S. government effort to establish response centers capable of manufacturing drugs and vaccines in an emergency.

ZMapp, developed by San Diego-based biotech Mapp Biopharmaceutical, is a biological drug. The antibodies that spark the immune system are produced in tobacco plants, then extracted from the plant to make the drug. A Kentucky subsidiary of Reynolds American grew the tobacco plants that made the monoclonal antibodies in ZMapp. Robinson says BARDA is now working with a response center at Texas A&M University to bring the tobacco drug-making technology from Kentucky to Texas. The university and its industry partners will use that technology to make ZMapp.

“They would respond by making that product, then helping us through clinical trials, then taking it to where it’s needed,” Robinson says.

Robinson, who is also deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, was in North Carolina last week for a Novartis event marking the first shipments of seasonal flu vaccine from the company’s Holly Springs, NC, vaccine plant. He says new vaccine production technology that Novartis has implemented to make flu vaccines more quickly could also, if needed, be used to make biological drugs such as ZMapp. The government earlier this month committed up to $42.3 million to help Mapp Bio accelerate development and testing of its Ebola drug.

The idea of creating drug and vaccine manufacturing centers followed the global H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009. The HHS awarded three contracts in 2012 to establish three centers, called Centers for Innovation and Advanced Development and Manufacturing. These centers, which would address threats from naturally occurring diseases as well as acts of bioterrorism, represent alliances between government, industry, and academia.

Texas A&M recently opened a pandemic influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in Bryan, TX—part of the response center it leads under a five-year $176 million contract. GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) is the university’s largest industry partner. Emergent Manufacturing Operations Baltimore, which has Maryland sites in both Baltimore and Gaithersburg, leads another center under a $163 million contract over eight years; Emergent Manufacturing is working with Michigan State University, Kettering University in Flint, MI, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

And Novartis leads a response center at its vaccine manufacturing plant in Holly Springs, which was developed under a $60 million contract. This center operates in partnership with NC State University and Duke University. Novartis’s flu vaccine relationship with BARDA predates the formation of the three response centers. In 2006, BARDA awarded Novartis a contract valued at up to $220.5 million to develop a cell-based influenza vaccine.

In conceiving the response centers, the government emphasized both capacity and speed. Each center must be able to produce at least 50 million doses of pandemic flu vaccine within four months. The government also requires … Next Page »

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  • KAM

    One point to consider is that 50 million doses of influenza vaccine/year, although it sounds like a lot, is only about 2,500 grams of protein/year (an influenza vaccine dose is on the order of 50 micrograms). If the production efficiency is similar for the ZMapp MAb, the cell culture facility would currently only be able to make about 210 Ebola treatments a year, based on the dosage used in the published Nature article (~12 grams/3 dose treatment for an 80kg human). Although it is a start, it is still not enough and more needs to be done.