The San Diego-based company has developed an experimental treatment, called ZMapp, which contains antibodies manufactured in plants. ZMapp has prevented lethal disease in rhesus monkeys but has not yet been tested for safety and efficacy in humans.
At Vanderbilt, researchers are using a high-efficiency method to isolate and generate large quantities of human antibodies from the blood of people who have survived Ebola and Marburg infections and who are now healthy. No live virus is used in the research here.
The goal of the collaboration is to develop safe and effective antibody therapies that can provide short-term protection to health care workers and others at risk of exposure to the two hemorrhagic filoviruses, which kill in part by causing massive bleeding.
“Our laboratory has been isolating antibodies to major human pathogens such as Ebola in order to understand the basic science of immunity in humans,” said lead Vanderbilt researcher James Crowe Jr., M.D., Ann Scott Carrell Professor and director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center.
“However, with the current urgent medical need for treatments for Ebola infection, we are thrilled to be working with Mapp Biopharmaceutical to produce the antibodies we have discovered as antiviral drugs that may benefit patients and health care workers facing this terrible epidemic,” Crowe said.
The current Ebola outbreak, which began in West Africa last December, has killed more than 2,500 people, making it the deadliest outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976. Health officials say the true death toll may be three or four times greater.
Vanderbilt’s research on Ebola and Marburg is being conducted in conjunction with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston with support from the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health.