Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024


A patient admitted to The Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center may have been exposed to the Ebola virus, health officials said Tuesday.  The patient has been isolated in a specially equipped room.  All trained staff are using personal protective equipment. Coordination is being made with infectious disease specialists.

Two aid workers, Dr. Kent Brantly, and missionary Nancy Writebol were flown back to the United States last month for treatment. Both are recovering after having received an experimental drug called ZMapp. (Refer to Ebola: Should We Worry? article printed here on August 4, 2014).  The ZMapp product is the result of a collaboration between Mapp, San Diego-based LeafBio, and Toronto-based Defyrus Inc, “a private, life sciences biodefence company that collaborates with military and public health R&D partners in the United States, Asia and Canada.” The Public Health Agency of Canada is the Defyrus partner north of the border. The drug has not yet been tested in humans for safety or effectiveness. But due to the extremely high death rate, both aid workers felt it was worth the risk and due to the emergency gave their consent to being treated. Very few courses of this drug have been manufactured.

The difference between a therapeutic drug and vaccine

A vaccine is given to people before being exposed to a virus or bacteria. A vaccine stimulates the immune system to generate antibodies and cellular immunity that can fight off an infection if it were to occur. Typically, therapeutics are provided to people who are already infected with the virus.

There are two other companies working on therapeutic drugs for Ebola in early development. The Department of Defense is working with a company called Newlink to develop an Ebola vaccine candidate. BioCryst, with NIH support, is working to develop an antiviral drug to treat Ebola virus that is expected to begin Phase 1 testing later this year.  What ingredients are in ZMAPP?  Tobacco.  Instead of dealing with the science of antibodies, they call it plantibodies.

Tobacco therapeutics for Ebola

What is known is that the antibodies are produced in a Australian strain of the tobacco plant by Kentucky Bioprocessing in Owensboro, Kentucky, a company that was acquired in January by Reynolds America, Inc, the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.

Genetics, GMO’s and Recombinant DNA

Humans have been domesticating plants and animals since around 12,000 BC.  This is the  process of selective breeding, in which organisms with desired traits (the desired genes) are used to breed the next generation and organisms lacking the trait are not bred.  In 1973, Genetic Engineering, the direct manipulation of genes, was first accomplished by Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen.  Since then, companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dow Chemical have inserted DNA from a variety of sources into seeds producing much of our basic food crops like corn and soy.  The resulting backlash from consumers complaints are due more to the “fox in the hen house” operating procedures.  Things like Monsanto doing their own in-house testing for safety of their products makes it all suspect.  The rise of autism and other allergies and diseases the past 20 years are thought to be directly connected to the ingestion of GMO products and thus the outcry to label all food products containing GMO’s.

When genetic material from a different species is added, the resulting DNA is called recombinant DNA and the organism is called a transgenic organism. GMOs are also used in biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs and experimental medicine. Given a choice between certain death or taking an experimental drug developed using GMO’s, I too would certainly pick the experimental drug.

Current GMO crops have been developed to have resistance to pests, and resistance to herbicides and to be tolerant to the herbicides glufosinate and glyphosate. Glyphosate has been connected to the bees dying off worlwide. Without bees, it is predicted that one third of all foods currently pollinated by bees would cease to be produced in the world.

Getting back to Ebola

The tobacco used in ZMAP is not your typical tobacco used in the production of cigarettes, but rather a strain developed with recombinant DNA.  The use of ZMAPP in the two aid workers referenced above may or may not have been effective in helping their recovery.  It’s too early to tell.  Some think the ebola virus may have starting resolving by itself.  The ZMAPP drug was administered to Dr. Brantly 9 days after he showed symptoms.  Personally, based on the information released by the news agencies, I believe the ZMAPP helped.  Dr. Brantly’s health was deteriorating so quickly that only after they administered the drug did his symptoms start reversing.


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