Washington, D.C. — The experimental drug ZMapp offers the ‘best option’ for people infected with the Ebola virus, say researchers who have published their findings in Nature.

Results have shown that 100% of the 18 monkeys given the drug were cured of the virus five days after infection, an achievement hailed by researchers as a very important step forward in the treatment of Ebola Virus Disease.

Due to the severity of the public health emergency, medical practitioners have been forced to turn to ZMapp but until now no public data were available on its effectiveness. Two American aid workers, a Spanish priest, three Liberian doctors and a British nurse have received the treatment since it has become available.

Dr Gary Kobinger from the Public Health Agency of Canada, one of the researchers involved in the study, said, “the level of improvement was beyond my own expectation, I was quite surprised that the best combination would rescue animals as far as day five, it was fantastic news.”

Despite these findings, ZMapp is unlikely to help the 20,000 people estimated to become infected, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) as they predict the outbreak will get worse before it gets better. Limited supplies have meant that only a small number have been given the experimental serum with mixed results.  Two patients who received the ZMapp treatment in August later died although it is unclear whether treatment was given within five days of infection . Concerns have been raised regarding the applicability of animal studies to humans and the amount of time it will take to produce the drug on a large scale.

ZMapp is a cocktail of three antibodies, which are the immune proteins used by the body to identify and neutralize an infectious agent. The antibodies are harvested from mice exposed to the virus and then genetically engineered to make them more comparable to human antibodies. These antibodies are then manufactured in genetically engineered tobacco plants.

This week Ebola vaccine trials will begin at the National Institute of Health in the US.

This outbreak of Ebola, the largest known, began in the spring of this year and has infected over 3000 people and killed more than 1550. Countries affected include Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Senegal with a separate outbreak having been reported last week in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bisseessar, has called for CARICOM countries to meet to discuss pre-emptive measures for the control of Ebola. Barbados and St. Lucia have begun work on securing isolation facilities and Dominica has said that it will begin screening students arriving from West Africa as part of its prevention and containment strategy.

Experimental Ebola drug ZMapp offers ‘best option’ for patients

Deborah Almond

Deborah Almond is AMG's Health Editor and an infectious disease specialist, with experience in sexual and reproductive health and malaria in pregnancy. She holds an MSc from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a BSc from University College London.

Category: Health