Recently CNN reported that: “Three vials containing an experimental drug stored at subzero temperatures were flown into Liberia last week in a last-ditch effort to save two American missionary workers who had contracted Ebola, according to a source familiar with details of the treatment.”
“The drug appears to have worked, sources say. Dr. Kent Brantly’s and Nancy Writebol’s conditions significantly improved after receiving the medication, sources say. Brantly was able to walk into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after being evacuated to the United States last week, and Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday.”
“A representative from the National Institutes of Health contacted Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia and offered the experimental treatment, known as ZMapp, for the two patients, according to the source.”
“The drug was developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which is based in San Diego. The patients were told that this treatment had never been tried before in a human being but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys.”
“Brantly and Writebol were aware of the risk of taking a new, little understood treatment and gave informed consent, according to two sources familiar with the care of the missionary workers. In the monkeys, the experimental serum had been given within 48 hours of infection. Brantly didn’t receive it until he’d been sick for nine days.”
“The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mice’s blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.”
“The Ebola virus causes viral hemorrhagic fever, which refers to a group of viruses that affect multiple organ systems in the body and are often accompanied by bleeding.”
“Early symptoms include sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat. They later progress to vomiting, diarrhea, impaired kidney and liver function — and sometimes internal and external bleeding.”
“The process by which the medication was made available to Brantly and Writebol is highly unusual. ZMapp has not been approved for human use, and has not even gone through the clinical trial process, which is standard to prove the safety and efficacy of a medication. It may have been given under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “compassionate use” regulation, which allows access to investigational drugs outside clinical trials.”
“Getting approval for compassionate use is often long and laborious, but in the case of Brantly and Writebol, they received the medication within seven to 10 days of their exposure to the Ebola virus.”
Click here to read the full CNN story “Experimental drug likely saved Ebola patients” by Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Danielle Dellorto.
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Jonathan M. Metsch, Dr.P.H., is Clinical Professor, Preventive Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; and Adjunct Professor, Baruch College ( C.U.N.Y.), Rutgers School of Public Health, and Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration.
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