Canadian research behind Ebola drug
TORONTO—Canadian research is at the heart of an experimental Ebola therapy recently given to two American aid workers infected while caring for patients in Liberia.
The unlicenced drug, called ZMapp, is made of three monoclonal antibodies—disease-fighting proteins that target a specific part of an invading pathogen, in this case the Ebola Zaire virus.
Two of the monoclonal antibodies are the product of years of research done at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, the agency confirmed in an e-mail late yesterday.
The third was developed at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, known as USAMRIID.
“Canada is a world leader in research and we are proud of the advances made at the NML [National Microbiology Laboratory] in this area,” a spokesperson for the agency said via e-mail last night.
The former head of the Winnipeg-based laboratory said he was delighted to hear that the Canadian-designed monoclonal antibodies had been used in this way.
“This is really gratifying to see the work come to fruition,” said Dr. Frank Plummer, who stepped down as the lab’s scientific director at the end of March.
“It’s a big achievement after years and years of very hard work,” he added.
The Canadian research was done under the leadership of Dr. Gary Kobinger, who heads the special pathogens research program at the national laboratory.
His team had developed a cocktail of three monoclonal antibodies called ZMAb—the rights to which recently were acquired by LeafBio of San Diego, Calif.
LeafBio is collaborating with Mapp Biopharmaceutical, also of San Diego, which is the maker of ZMapp.
That is the product given last week to Dr. Kent Brantly, who works with the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, and Nancy Writebol, an American missionary who works with the organization Service in Mission, or SIM.
The two were infected while working at an Ebola treatment centre in Liberia.
Brantly was transferred to the U.S. over weekend, where he was admitted to a special isolation treatment unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Writebol also is being brought back to the U.S.; she was to arrive at Emory today.
Neither ZMapp nor the individual monoclonal antibodies it contains have been tested in humans, though small studies in non-human primates look very promising.
It has been reported that Brantly and Writebol were warned the drug only had been tested in animals, but that they were willing to try the treatment anyway.