Ebola is no longer contained within the West African borders. Thomas Duncan’s recent death in a Dallas hospital has brought the virus closer to home than expected. While the exact details behind his death are still being scrutinized, it is known that he was not given the experimental drug ZMapp.
The first Americans who contracted the disease, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, who became infected while working in Africa, were both given the experimental drug and recovered fully. Teresa Romero the Spanish nurse who was also infected with the virus recovered quickly after receiving ZMapp. She is still in serious condition but improved noticeably only hours after the treatment.
ZMapp has not yet been fully tested, but has had remarkable success when administered. There is not enough of the drug available to treat all those afflicted with the virus. Effect of the drug on humans is sorely lacking sufficient data to proclaim the drug as a cure. With the drug’s limited supply, only a few people have been given ZMapp.
The drug is being tested on Ebola infected monkeys with a high success rate. Researchers published their findings in Nature and declared a 100 percent recovery rate even with monkeys in later stages of the disease. It is the only clinical data available and is an important development in the testing of the drug.
The fact that monkeys infected for five days were able to recover bodes well for people. With a slower progression of the disease in humans, it is expected that ZMapp might be effective as late as day 11 after a person is infected. Because of internal organ damage caused by the virus, there is a point of no return. That, however, cannot be determined until clinical trials on humans can begin.
As the testing of the drug continues, the company producing the drug is quietly ramping up production. ZMapp is currently under production by BioProcessing from Kentucky. It is derived from genetically modified tobacco plants. While it is producing the drug as quickly as possible, another, unnamed company, is producing the drug by using genetically modified mammalian cells. That process uses “CHO” cells from ovaries of Chinese hamsters that have been raised in sterile tanks.
ZMapp was initially identified as a potential treatment against the Ebola virus in January 2014. Three companies, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc., LeafBio from San Diego and Defyrus from Toronto, collaborated to produce the drug.
Latest reports state that the supplies of the drug have been exhausted. It is also being considered whether smaller dosages would have the same effect. If so, it would make the drug available to a greater number of people.
As the virus has now found its way outside of West Africa, it becomes critical that the drug be produced as quickly as possible. Thomas Duncan was known to have had contact with up to 100 people. All are being quarantined to keep the Ebola virus localized. Until ZMapp becomes available, quarantine becomes the major means to keep the virus from spreading.
By Hans Benes
Image courtesy of European Commission DG – License