WIKIMEDIA, PLOS BIOLOGYAs an outbreak of Ebola virus spreads in West Africa, doctors, regulatory authorities, and biotech firms are scrambling to find a cure for an as-yet incurable disease. An experimental monoclonal antibody-based therapy, administered to two American healthcare workers who contracted Ebola in Liberia, illustrates the risks physicians and patients are willing to take to stop the often fatal infection.
Forbes reported that the product, called ZMapp, is a “three-antibody cocktail” that “provides an artificial immune response against sugar-tagged proteins on the outside of the Ebolavirus.” So far it has not been tested in Phase I clinical trials, making the US patients guinea pigs for the treatment.
Ars Technica tracked down publications related to the therapy, which was initially developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical. According to Ars, “in the researchers’ most recent published work, from about a year ago, they used it on macaques that were already developing fevers as a result of the infection. Nearly half of the animals survived, while the infection was completely fatal in the control group.”
When the two Americans fell ill in Liberia, their humanitarian groups appealed to US health agencies to ask for any sort of treatment—tested or not. “Our staff in Liberia knew about the research and flagged it for the religious groups,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Washington Post. “The physicians in charge of the patients’ care made a risk-benefit decision. The risk was less than the potential benefit.”
Mapp Biopharmaceutical told the Washington Post that very little material is available, but that it is working to increase production quickly. In the meantime, development of an Ebola vaccine has been fast-tracked by US health agencies, while testing for a drug developed by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is on hold for now.