ASU's key role in experimental Ebola drug featured on BBC Horizon, PBS NOVA documentaries

ASU's key role in experimental Ebola drug featured on BBC Horizon, PBS NOVA documentaries

October 10, 2014

October 10, 2014

As the largest Ebola epidemic in history threatens to spiral out of control, scientists around the world are racing to find a cure. Recently, the documentary teams of BBC's Horizon and PBS's NOVA met with front line responders in the fight to contain Ebola, and the highly experimental treatments developed for those infected.
 
Among those featured was Charles Arntzen, a Regents' Professor, founding director of the Biodesign Institute at ASU and pioneer in plant-based therapeutics, who played a key role on an unlikely combination of using tobacco as a way to make and deliver a promising, high-risk experimental treatment to thwart the Ebola virus.
 
Arntzen worked with San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical for the past 15 years on the idea of plant-based vaccines with the work eventually focusing on the Ebola virus and receiving funding through the U.S. Army. The work steadily progressed over several years when, suddenly, the Ebola outbreak occurred.  
 
The treatment, called ZMapp, recently made international headlines when, in an unprecedented move, it was used to treat two aid workers, Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who became infected during the current Ebola outbreak in Africa.
 
Arntzen is quick to point out that the vaccine itself was developed by researchers at Mapp Biopharmaceutical in San Diego. Researchers there had been working with Arntzen’s team at ASU and with a team at Kentucky BioProcessing, on the therapeutic, called ZMapp.
 
Kentucky BioProcessing is where ZMapp, the cocktail of antibodies that were injected into Brantly and Writebol, is produced. The antibodies are produced in specially modified tobacco plants. The plants are harvested, ground up into a green liquid, purified and turned into tiny doses of the drug.

While the early results are promising and several people given ZMapp have been released from the hospital, not everyone given the ZMapp treatment has survived. 
 
Prior to this, ZMapp had only been tested in mice and monkeys before being used to treat people. It had never been tested for safety or efficacy in a human clinical trial nor FDA approved. Because of this, Arntzen cautions that it is much too early to talk of Ebola cures, and more scientific rigor and data are needed to ultimately prove the true efficacy of ZMapp. 
 
But now with the first Ebola cases in the U.S., Spain and Norway, and the small supply of ZMapp exhausted, the worldwide community is mobilizing to thwart the virus' spread, and to quickly develop and test new treatments to ward off the crisis.
 
While the BBC Horizon special link won't play in the U.S., a similar version, aired on PBS Nova October 8, 2014. See the link below to watch: http://video.pbs.org/video/2365340607/

 

Written by: Joe Caspermeyer