By Ferdous Al-Faruque - 08/12/14 02:09 PM EDT
It will take months to produce even a small batch of a promising new drug to counter Ebola, according to U.S. health officials.
Mapp Biopharmaceutical’s drug ZMapp has shown some promise. The drug has been used to treat two Americans who have contracted Ebola.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says it will take months to make more of the drug. Even in that timeframe, the company will only be able to produce less than a hundred treatment courses.
He said the government was trying to help Mapp “scale up” so that it could produce more of the medicine.
“Right now, when you’re dealing with Mapp Biopharmaceutical, it’s a small company of very few people, so what we’re trying to do with the government is to partner with them to help them scale up,” he said. “But it’s not going to be mass production … because the technology needs to be developed to make it faster.”
The drug comes from the Nicotiana benthamiana plant, which health officials said takes longer than a month to grow. Substances from the plant then must go through months of processing before being made into ZMapp.
Fauci also cautioned the drug has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and there is very little evidence to prove that the drug is safe and effective.
Two American missionaries, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, both contracted Ebola in Liberia before being transported to Atlanta for treatment. They have been treated with ZMapp and their conditions have improved.
However, Miguel Pajares, a Spanish priest who was also infected in Liberia and was treated with ZMapp, died on Tuesday.
Besides ZMapp, the government is looking at other drugs to fight Ebola, including a vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline.
Fauci says the NIH hopes to have the vaccine available for distribution by next year and will initially give it out to healthcare workers in West Africa.
The death total from the virus’s latest outbreak has climbed to more than 1,000 people.
The World Health Organization endorsed treating Ebola victims with drugs that have not been fully tested.