ZMapp: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Secret serum likely saved Ebola patientsAn unknown serum was given to two U.S. Ebola patients and likely improved their condition. Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports.2014-08-04T16:50:25.000Z

An experimental drug given to two Americans to fight the ebola virus seems to be working, according to CNN. ZMapp was developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceuticals which is currently working with governments and businesses to amp up production, according to the Times of San Diego.

Here’s what you need to know about the drug:

1. It’s Made from Tobacco Leaves

ZMapp ebola drug tobacco leaves

Nicotiana benthamiana, the plant from which ZMapp is derived. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Chandres.

WebMD reports ZMapp is made from the leaves of modified tobacco plants, specifically, the Nicotiana benthamiana plant, according to Bloomberg. The tobacco leaves, which typically do more harm than good in regard to human health, help combat the ebola virus because of the compound that’s created from their modification. NBC News reports the combination of compounds in ZMapp includes a compound called MB-003 and another called ZMAb. MB-003 protected 100 percent of monkeys exposed to the ebola virus immediately after exposure. ZMAb provided 100 percent survival to monkeys one day after exposure. That number decreased to 50 percent after two days, according to NBC News. According to Erica Ollmann Saphire, a professor of immunology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., one of the antibodies in the serum helps alert the immune system to the presence of infected cells so they can be destroyed. The other two antibodies seem, “to neutralize the virus,” Ollman Saphire told WebMD.

2. The Drug Had Never Before Been Tested in Humans

ZMapp ebola cure Nancy Writebol Kent Brantly tobacco leaves


CNN reports ZMapp had never been tried before in humans with ebola, but had shown promise in monkeys with the disease. Both Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol knew the drug had never been tested in humans before taking it. Both Brantly’s and Writebol’s improving conditions have left researchers optimistic about the effectiveness of ZMapp. Thomas Geisbert, a professor of infectious disease at The University of Texas Galveston Medical Branch, told WebMD in an interview, “If we can prove that whatever the treatment was worked, that’s fantastic. That’s exciting. But I’m cautiously optimistic, because with this particular outbreak, almost 40 percent of patients survive without treatment. So we want to make sure that it wasn’t somebody that was going to survive anyway.”

3. The Drug’s Creation Was a Collaborative Effort

ZMapp miracle ebola drug saves American missionaries


According to the Times of San Diego, ZMapp was the result of collaboration among Mapp Pharmaceuticals, San Diego-based LeafBio, Defyrus in Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Mapp Pharmaceuticals said in a statement:

ZMapp was first identified as a drug candidate in January 2014 and has not yet been evaluated for safety in humans. As such, very little of the drug is currently available. Mapp and its partners are cooperating with appropriate government agencies to increase production as quickly as possible.

4. The Drug’s Use Has Raised Ethical Questions

Bloomberg reports the use of ZMapp has raised ethical questions regarding who has the right to experimental treatment. Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University, told Bloomberg:

There are a lot of Africans that are also dying. If we are going to do it for the Americans then we should certainly step up our game for the Africans.

Liberia’s assistant health minister, Tolbert Nyenswah, told The Wall Street Journal health officials have become inundated with requests from the families of ebola patients for ZMapp. He said:

This is something that has made our job most difficult. The population here is asking: ‘You said there was no cure for Ebola, but the Americans are curing it?’

After contracting and being diagnosed with Ebola in Liberia, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were flown to an isolation ward at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital. The death toll in this ebola outbreak has risen to 932 people, according to the Associated Press.

5. Mapp Pharmaceuticals Was Part of a Group Awarded a $28 Million Grant to Fight Ebola

ZMapp ebola drug Mapp Pharmaceuticals tobacco leaves Kent Brantly Nancy Writebol


Mapp Pharmaceuticals was one of several companies and research to be selected for a five-year grant of up to $28 million in order to fight ebola, according to The Scripps Research Institute. The announcement was made back in March and involves 15 different organizations working to combat ebola worldwide. The grant was awarded by the National Institutes of Health.

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