Ebola Virus …Win some, lose some

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In Nigeria
Aug 25th, 2014
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A Liberian doctor was confirmed dead despite being treated with experimental drug ZMapp. Before the Liberian’s death, a Spanish woman treated with the same drug also died. But, two Americans who received the same treatment are alive and Ebola-free. This development has raised the poser on whether or not ZMapp has anything to do with the recovery of the Americans, writes OLUKOREDE YISHAU

One of three African doctors infected with Ebola and treated with the experimental drug ZMapp in Liberia is dead. Liberia’s Information Minister Lewis Brown confirmed yesterday that Dr. Abraham Borbor lost the battle against Ebola.

Last week, Liberia said ZMapp appeared to be helping three Liberian health care workers who were given the experimental drug. They had shown “very positive signs of recovery,” the Liberian Ministry of Health said. Medical professionals treating the workers called their progress “remarkable.”

Borbor’s case, according to Brown, worsened yesterday. He was the Deputy Chief Medical Director at the John F. Kenedy Medical Centre, Monrovia.

Before the Liberian’s death, a Spanish priest who was also treated with ZMapp died. The Ebola drug was flown to Spain to give to the priest named Miguel Pajares, who had contracted the virus in Liberia.

Borbor’s death coincides with the beginning of treatment on a Briton who contracted the disease in Sierra Leone. Doctors at a hospital in north-west London are treating William Pooley, a 29-year-old volunteer nurse.

Pooley was flown to RAF Northolt in a specially equipped military aircraft on Sunday and taken under police escort to Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital.

He volunteered to go to West Africa to care for victims of the Ebola outbreak which has killed almost 1,500 people.

It is the first confirmed case of a Briton contracting the virus during the current outbreak.

Pooley, believed to be from Woodbridge in Suffolk, was flown out of Sierra Leone’s main airport in Lungi, in a RAF C-17 transport aircraft.

If Pooley survives, he will be the third to have survived the deadly disease after receiving doses of ZMapp.

The first two are two American missionaries, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. They were infected with the deadly Ebola virus and flown separately from Liberia to Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital – becoming the first human patients with Ebola to ever come to the United States.

Writebol was released from the hospital last Tuesday. Brantly walked out of the same hospital with no signs of the virus in his system the next day.Their recoveries seem to offer hope for those fighting the largest Ebola outbreak in known history. More than 2,400 people have been infected by the virus, according to the World Health Organisation, and it’s killed more than half.

They were given ZMapp, which is not an approved treatment for Ebola. There is no approved treatment yet.

For Ebola patients to leave isolation, two blood tests had to come back negative for the Ebola virus. Their bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat and feces, should no longer be infectious before they are let out of isolation.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some doctors believe the virus can remain in vaginal fluid and semen for up to several months.

A report by CNN said this of ZMapp: “The drug was developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which is based in San Diego. The company was founded in 2003 “to develop novel pharmaceuticals for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, focusing on unmet needs in global health and biodefense,” according to its website.

“Mapp Biopharmaceutical has been working with the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, an arm of the military responsible for countering weapons of mass destruction, to develop an Ebola treatment for several years.”

On how the drug works, the report says: “Antibodies are proteins used by the immune system to mark and destroy foreign, or harmful, cells. A monoclonal antibody is similar, except it’s engineered in a lab so it will attach to specific parts of a dangerous cell, according to the Mayo Clinic, mimicking your immune system’s natural response. Monoclonal antibodies are used to treat many different types of conditions.”

The drug is produced with proteins made from tobacco plants. ZMapp manufacturer Kentucky BioProcessing in Owensboro provided limited quantities of this kind of the drug to Emory, according to company spokesman David Howard.

With the recovery of two patients who were given the drug and the death of another two after receiving the treatment, many have wondered why it worked in some and failed in others. The CNN report says there is no proof that the Americans survived because of ZMapp.

“The drug had shown promise in primates, but even in those experiments, just eight monkeys received the treatment. In any case, the human immune system can react differently than primates’, which is why drugs are required to undergo human clinical trials before being approved by government agencies for widespread use. These cases will be studied further to determine how the drug worked with their immune systems,” the report says.

Ebola is a rare disease, almost completely confined to poor countries – so funding for drug development has come largely from government agencies.

In March, the NIH awarded a five-year, $28 million grant to establish collaboration between researchers from 15 institutions working to fight Ebola. Last Wednesday, Wellcome Trust and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development announced that money for Ebola research will be made available from a $10.8 million initiative.

So far, scientists say the efficacy of ZMapp can only be confirmed after further studies.


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