An experimental serum called ZMapp may have likely saved two American missionary workers infected with Ebola while working with the aid organization Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia.
Three vials containing the experimental drug stored at subzero temperatures were flown into Liberia last week in a last-ditch effort to save the two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol and it appears to have worked as their conditions improved significantly after receiving the medication.
Dr Nancy Writebol & Dr. Kent Brantly
According to CNN report, a source with firsthand knowledge of the situation said the ZMapp vials had reached the hospital in Liberia where Brantly and Writebol were being treated Thursday morning. It was expected that it would be eight to 10 hours before the medicine could be given and doctors were instructed to allow the serum to thaw naturally without any additional heat.
Brantly asked that Writebol be given the first dose because he was younger and he thought he had a better chance of fighting it, and she agreed. However, as the first vial was still thawing, Brantly’s condition became worse, he began to deteriorate and developed labored breathing. Since his dose was still frozen, he asked if he could have Writebol’s now-thawed medication, which was then administered to him through an IV.
Within an hour of receiving the medication, Brantly’s condition dramatically improved. He began breathing easier; the rash over his trunk faded away. One of his doctors described the events as “miraculous.” By the next morning, was able to take a shower on his own before getting on a specially designed Gulfstream air ambulance jet to be evacuated to the United States.
A vial of the medication was also given to Writebol but her response was not so remarkable. On Sunday, August 3, the second dose of medication was administered and there was significant improvement in her condition and she was stable enough to be evacuated back to the United States.
Both of them are improving, although it’s impossible to know whether the treatment is the reason or they are recovering on their own, as others who have survived Ebola have done. Brantly was able to walk into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after being evacuated to the United States, and Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday.
The experimental drug, known as ZMapp, was developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which is based in San Diego.
ZMapp has not been approved for human use and has not even gone through the clinical trial process, which is standard to prove the safety and efficacy of a medication. It may have been given under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ‘compassionate use’ regulation, which allows access to investigational drugs outside clinical trials.
The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mice’s blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.
Getting approval for compassionate use is often long and laborious, but in the case of Brantly and Writebol, they received the medication within seven to 10 days of their exposure to the Ebola virus.
The Ebola virus causes viral hemorrhagic fever, which refers to a group of viruses that affect multiple organ systems in the body and are often accompanied by bleeding. Early symptoms include sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat. They later progress to vomiting, diarrhea, impaired kidney and liver function and sometimes internal and external bleeding.