Local experimental Ebola serum appears to work - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Local experimental Ebola serum appears to work

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - A local researcher who helped develop the serum used to treat Ebola patients is reacting to news of their release.

Doctors say Kent Brantly no longer has signs of Ebola, and one local researcher says the experimental drug she helped develop deserves some credit.

"I think the antibody played a significant role in treatment," Dr. Erica Ollman Saphire of the Scripps Research Institute said. "His viral load was very high, and then he was given the antibodies and the viral load dropped. That means he was filled with virus, and after the antibodies he still a whole lot less virus."

Both Dr. Brantly and Nancy Writebol were treated for Ebola with a cocktail of antibodies called ZMapp developed by Mapp Biopharmacutical in San Diego. It's made inside genetically engineered tobacco plants, and it works by targeting and binding the virus to prevent it from spreading.

Saphire worked on ZMapp for 10 years from the Scripps Research Institute, and says the experimental drug is slated for human testing next year.

"If the human trials look as promising as the animal studies and the anecdotal evidence of the people that received it, I think it's likely to be approved," she said.

Still, Dr. Bruce Ribner, the doctor in charge of treatment for the two Americans at Emory University Hospital, says without more testing he isn't ready to gauge ZMapp's effectiveness just yet.

"Frankly, we do not know whether it helped them, whether it made no difference or whether it theoretically delayed their recovery," Ribner said.

Last week, a 75-year-old Spanish priest died after being infected with Ebola, despite receiving doses of ZMapp.

Mapp Biopharmacutical has run out of its supply following a West African Ebola outbreak that's killed more than 1,300 people.

Saphire knows that the treatment can be improved. She heads a global consortium at Scripps that receives antibodies from all over the world in hopes of building on ZMapp.

It could be another two years until ZMapp is approved, and she's optimistic a true cure will be found.

"It's just very, very important to support basic research so that cures like this can be found," Saphire said.

Three African doctors have also been treated with ZMapp in Liberia, and government officials there say they have also shown remarkable signs of improvement.

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