Is ZMapp drug a cure for Ebola?

Drug wasn't even supposed to be tested on humans until 2015

(CNN) – There are still a lot of questions about the drug that might have saved two Americans from Ebola. It’s called ZMapp, and it’s an experimental medication, not even approved by the FDA.

Yet doctors say when it was given to Doctor Kent Brantly his condition improved dramatically over the course of just one hour. Could it be a cure?

“It’s profound, it’s everything we work for.”

Erica Ollman Saphire is part of the a team of 25 labs in 7 countries that created the serum taken by both American Ebola patients, and so far the cocktail seems to be working.

Until now the drug wasn’t known to the public; it wasn’t even supposed to be tested on humans until 2015.

“Did you have any reservations before this outbreak happened about trying it on people?”

“I thought it would work, I would take it myself. But I know what it is and I’ve spent my life studying Ebola virus.”

Saphire says the antibodies work by binding to the virus or the infected cell.

“This is a model that we made of the protein that’s on the surface of the virus. The green and white. The yellow is the antibody. So this is the molecule virus uses to attach to the human cell and drive itself in. The antibody will attach itself to it and do one of a couple things. One of the ones in the ZMapp cocktail alerts the immune system to the presence of the infection. The other two do exactly this. They bind to the base of this molecule and prevent it from working.”

One reason it takes so long to make doses is the need to recreate the antibodies; something the scientists are able to do rather cheaply with tobacco plants.

“They are taking hundreds of plants at a time, dipping them in this genetic solution, the plants take up the virus, they start this process of viral infection and in the process get jam-full of monoclonal antibody. As the plant starts turning yellow, ’cause it’s going to die from the viral infection, once you see that the plant has gotten to that point, the guys in Kentucky harvest the leaf material.”

After separating the antibodies through a multi-step process, the 3 desired antibodies are then combined to create the drug that the Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, received, called ZMapp.

“It looks very promising and it’s certainly encouraging and a reason to go forward with these kinds of studies.”

And Doctor Saphire says it brought a tear to her eye when she saw Doctor Brantly actually get out of that ambulance and walk on his own power into the hospital. That gives her encouragement that this cocktail is working.  But because there was no control and these were the first two people ever to get a trial version of the drug, she says that more trials need to be done, more studies so they can get more information and hone this drug as necessary so that more people can benefit and more lives are saved.

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