August 05, 2014 8:54 am • By Tom Beal
Two American aid workers infected with Ebola are getting an experimental drug so novel it has never been tested for safety in humans and was o… Read more
The experimental treatment that may have saved the lives of two Americans infected with the ebola virus grew from the pioneering efforts of researchers at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, led by Charles Arntzen.
Arntzen, reached by phone Tuesday morning, was quick to note that the treatment for the disease was developed and manufactured by two companies, Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego, and Kentucky Bioprocessing.
It was based on research he and colleagues did with tobacco plants at the ASU center.
“It’s extremely gratifying,” said Arntzen, who said he was surprised that anyone in government had the nerve to offer treatment that had not been thoroughly tested and approved by the FDA.
“Somebody took a risk and it’s going to jumpstart this whole field of research,” he said.
Arntzen, who pioneered the process of producing antigenic proteins from genetically modified plants, said he and his colleagues had been working on a vaccine for Ebola, using tobacco plants.
“I was involved in the initial research funded by the U.S. Army, which gave a grant to ASU, and the idea was we would use plant biotechnology to make both a vaccine and the monoclonal antibody.”
The Associated Press reported that aid workers Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly had been administered the experimental treatment called ZMapp and were improving, though it is impossible to say whether the drug is responsible.