An experimental drug called ZMapp offers a potential cure for Ebola. This serum, which is still in its experimental stage, is giving hope to patients stricken with the virus. It has not yet been approved and is not yet in production.
With the urgency of the situation in West Africa, this drug was made available to both patients being treated in Atlanta. At last report, both Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol have been given the serum at the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Being the first humans to receive the antibodies, they are, in essence, human guinea pigs.
As the situation in West Africa continues to worsen, laboratories are scrambling to find a cure. With both Writebol and Dr. Brantly improving after having been administered the serum, a cure may have been found. Reports have been released that Dr. Brantly was near death when ZMapp, created by Mapp Biopharmaceutical (Mapp Bio) in San Diego, was administered. After it was administered, Dr. Brantly’s labored breathing and skin rash improved.
As a potential cure for Ebola, ZMapp harnesses antibodies created in Toronto by a company called Defyrus. Mapp Bio and Leaf Biopharmaceutical, entered into a commercialization agreement last month. The drug had been identified as being a potential candidate against Ebola last January. It has not been evaluated for safety against humans and there is only a very limited supply available. Mapp Bio is working with government regulators to increase production as quickly as possible.
ZMapp isn’t actually a vaccine, it is a three-antibody serum that triggers an artificial immune response on the outside of the Ebola virus, specifically focusing on sugar-tagged proteins. This approach is known as passive immunity. Once the antibodies latch on to the infectious agent, the body can mount an immediate immune response. Passive immunity allows the body to respond immediately, whereas a vaccine may require a lengthy period of time for the body to create its own antibodies.
Unlicensed ZMapp is a mixture of three monoclonal antibodies. These antibodies consist of disease fighting proteins that target specific parts of pathogens such as the Ebola virus. Two of the antibodies are the result of years of research at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, located in Winnipeg. The third antibody was developed at USAMRIID, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The serum is produced in genetically modified tobacco plants. This is being done at a subsidiary of Reynolds American, Kentucky BioProcessing. A spokesperson for Reynolds said that the makers of ZMapp were given an investigational new drug designation by the FDA.
While the work being done in the U.S. and Canada is encouraging, the virus is still not under control in West Africa. There is very little of it available and the only successful testing that has been done is with monkeys. The two Americans are the first human recipients of the antibody.
ZMapp is the first hope for a potential Ebola cure. The drug, however,is still under development and, before production of a drug or vaccine can be implemented, it must first be licensed. The outbreak is till growing as the virus may now be moving into Nigeria, where several suspected cases have surfaced.
By Hans Benes