Experimental drug 'likely saved' first two Americans with Ebola

  • Kent Brantly, a doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia, shown with colleagues in this undated photograph provided by Samaritan's Purse. Samaritan's Purse//Reuters


    Kent Brantly, a doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia, shown with colleagues in this undated photograph provided by Samaritan's Purse. Samaritan's Purse//Reuters

    CNN reports that an experimental treatment for Ebola known as ZMapp was "flown into Liberia last week in a last-ditch effort to save two American missionary workers who had contracted Ebola." So far, it has worked: both are still alive.

  • Mapp Biopharmaceutical, a biotech firm based in San Diego, California, developed the drug with research funding from the NIH. The story behind the drug development is interesting--it involves tobacco plants.

    The two patients gave their consent for the new drug, and "were told that this treatment had never been tried before in a human being but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys."

    The Ebola virus, pictured here, causes disease that currently leads to death in 25 to 90 percent of cases. (Transmission electron micrograph image of Ebola virus, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)


    The Ebola virus, pictured here, causes disease that currently leads to death in 25 to 90 percent of cases. (Transmission electron micrograph image of Ebola virus, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

    Dr. Kent Brantly's symptoms began with fever, on July 22. He immediately isolated himself. Nancy Writebol, the second American to be infected, experienced symptoms three days later.

    According to company documents, four monkeys infected with Ebola survived after being given the therapy within 24 hours after infection. Two of four additional monkeys that started therapy within 48 hours after infection also survived. One monkey that was not treated died within five days of exposure to the virus.

    Brantly and Writebol were aware of the risk of taking a new, little understood treatment; informed consent was obtained from both Americans, according to two sources familiar with the care of the missionary workers. In the monkeys, the experimental serum had been given within 48 hours of infection. Brantly didn't receive it until he'd been sick for nine days.

    The effects of the drug on both patients, as described in the CNN story, is remarkable.

    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, Brantly 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. Writebol also received a vial of the medication. Her response was not as remarkable, according to sources familiar with the treatment. However, doctors on Sunday administered Writebol a second dose of the medication, which resulted in significant improvement.

    She was stable enough to be evacuated back to the United States and is expected to arrive before noon Tuesday.

    Video and full report are here, at CNN.com.

    Dr. Brantly also received a blood transfusion "from a 14-year-old boy who survived Ebola under Dr. Brantly's care, in the hope that antibodies would help him, too, fight off the virus," reports the WSJ.

    As Newsweek notes, Brantly and Writebol contracted Ebola "despite wearing full hazmat suits while working with Ebola patients."

    Related reading: "Experimental Ebola Treatment Protects Some Primates Even After Disease Symptoms Appear" [PDF, via USAMRII]

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