Experimental Ebola Drug Sent to Treat Infected Liberian Doctors

Davy James, Associate Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Supply of ZMapp now gone as death toll climbs above 1000.

An experimental drug for Ebola hemorrhagic fever that was used to treat American relief workers is set to be shipped to West Africa, where it will be administered to a pair of Liberian doctors infected with the virus.

NPR today reported that Liberia and the FDA have reached an agreement on a deal to ship ZMapp to treat stricken aid workers in the Ebola ravaged nation. ZMapp, which was developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc, showed promising results in treating infected American aid workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who showed signs of recovery after receiving the drug.

“West Africa is desperate to save the lives of doctors and health workers who're struggling to contain the outbreak of Ebola,” NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton said in the report. “Liberia says it will use the scarce new drugs for 2 doctors who've tested positive for the virus.”

ZMapp acts as a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies that bind and inactivate the virus by recognizing infected cells and triggering the immune system to kill them off, according to Mapp. The company said in a statement on Fox News that it has now run out of its supply for ZMapp after responding to the request for the drug from Liberia.

While ZMapp may have played a role in the improvement of the American aid workers, it was also used to treat Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, who contracted the disease during relief efforts in Liberia. Although he was airlifted to Madrid on August 7, 2014, NBC News reported that the 75-year old priest died today.

After conducting an ethical review this week on the use of untested experimental treatments in infected patients, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement today that there is a moral obligation to explore any possible intervention, given the severe nature of the current situation in West Africa. WHO’s latest figures place the death toll at more than 1000, with more than 1800 confirmed and suspected cases.

“In the particular circumstances of this outbreak, and provided certain conditions are met, the panel reached consensus that it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment or prevention,” read a statement on WHO’s website. “Ethical criteria must guide the provision of such interventions. These include transparency about all aspects of care, informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity, and involvement of the community.”

WHO representatives said last weekend that a vaccine to halt the spread of Ebola could be ready at some point in 2015. GlaxoSmithKline is projected to launch clinical trials on an experimental Ebola treatment this year through a collaboration with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) Vaccine Research Center.

The NIH said the trial will begin enrolling patients in September and testing could begin as soon as January.

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