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New Ebola Drug Made From Tobacco Plants Saves Lives of Two US Aid Workers

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By Indrani Bhattacharyya | August 6, 2014 10:13 AM EST

At a time when the world is being threatened by Ebola every moment, slight hope has been provided through a new treatment.

A relatively small company based on San Diego came up with an experimental Ebola treatment for two Americans who got infected with the deadly virus in Liberia.
The drug that was produced with tobacco plants claims to be working in these two patients.

Reuters
An airplane carrying American doctor Kent Brantly who has the Ebola virus, arrives at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia on Aug. 2, 2014. The same plane is now carrying the second Ebola patient Nancy Writebol.

According to the report by Bloomberg, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc, a small company with just nine employees provided experimental ZMapp drug for treatment of these two workers. Kentucky BioProcessing LLC is known to manufacture the treatment for Mapp from tobacco plants.

The two patients Kent Brantly, a doctor and Nancy Writebol, an aid worker who are presently on the drug, seem to be improving and responding well with the drug according to their relatives and supporters.

Both of them received at least one dose of ZMapp in Liberia before coming to the U.S, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The two researchers who worked extensively to make Mapp successful, President Larry Zeitlin and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Whaley, “are both brilliant,” said Charles Arntzen, a plant biotechnology expert from Arizona State University. He collaborated with the two scientists long time back.

Arntzen explained the specific reason behind the use of tobacco plants for producing therapeutic proteins. It is a rapid production system which works best during an emergency phase like this.

In order to produce more therapeutic proteins inside a tobacco plant, genes for the desired antibodies are made to fuse with the genes for a natural tobacco virus, and then the tobacco plants get to infected with the new artificial virus. This infection leads to the production of antibodies inside the plant which is followed by the extraction of antibody. The process takes about weeks, he further said.

As explained by Bloomberg, Mapp’s drug is being developed with the company named Defyrus Inc. Based on Toronto this company presently works with six employees.

 Defyrus CEO Jeff Turner stated that ZMapp is supposed to be a “cocktail” of monoclonal antibodies which help the immune system attack the virus.

Even though no drugs to treat Ebola are approved by U.S. regulators, the Food and Drug Administration is able to approve an emergency application in order to provide access to unapproved drugs, Stephanie Yao, an FDA spokeswoman, said through an e-mail.

“The FDA stands ready to work with companies and investigators treating these patients who are in dire need of treatment,” Yao was quoted saying.

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(Photo: Reuters / Tami Chappell)
An airplane carrying American doctor Kent Brantly who has the Ebola virus, arrives at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia on Aug. 2, 2014. The same plane is now carrying the second Ebola patient Nancy Writebol.
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