Collaboration Paves the Road for Ebola Treatment

Health care team in the fields of chemical gas area

In the throws of the largest Ebola outbreak ever, with more than 2000 confirmed cases in West Africa, there was a glimmer of hope when the little known biotechnology company Mapp Biopharmaceuticals gave their potentially life-saving drug, ZMapp, to two infected patients.  ZMapp has very encouraging results in non-human primate studies, but has not been tested in humans, and the extremely small supply has been exhausted. This means that it will not be ready for mass distribution for some time and leads to important ethical questions of who should get access to the medication when it is available.

Still, the fact that a potential treatment for Ebola exists at all is extraordinary, and the story of ZMapp’s development clearly demonstrates the power of collaboration to accelerate and enhance drug discovery.  In this case, the collaboration was between Mapp Pharmaceuticals (San Diego), Leaf Bio (San Diego), and Defyrus Inc. (Toronto). Both Mapp and Defyrus developed drugs, MB-003 and ZMAb, respectively, that contained combinations of humanized monoclonal antibodies that target Ebola antigens. To get these antibodies, researchers first harvested antibody secreting B-cells from mice injected with Ebola antigens, created immortalized cell lines, extracted the gene encoding the antibody, and then replaced regions with human sequences. For production, these antibody genes are then expressed in tobacco plants. ZMapp is a combination of the best three antibodies from MB-003 and ZMAb. While the results for ZMapp in nonhuman primates are not yet published, both MB-003 and ZMAb helped monkeys survive Ebola infection, and it is expected that the combination will work even better.

This is not the first time that collaboration has spurred the development of drugs in the face of a deadly health crisis. This was seen before during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, where groups of researchers including 15 pharmaceutical companies worked together. The resulting HIV protease inhibitors have saved millions of lives. These historic and present catastrophes highlight the value of collaboration for finding successful therapeutics. This is an idea worth embracing across the spectrum of human diseases, even in the absence of a moment of crisis. Indeed, despite the growing threat, Ebola is still a small killer compared to other diseases in the region, such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV. CDD is proud to provide tools  that enable seamless collaboration. How might collaboration accelerate your drug discovery research and development to benefit human health?