Ebola needs a ZMapp Manhattan Project at Warp Speed, not nonsense

Bloomberg discusses ZMapp, which, along with related treatments, needs to be produced in the millions of doses, not 100:

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which has nine employees, released its experimental ZMapp drug, until now only tested on infected animals, for the two health workers…The two scientists behind Mapp, President Larry Zeitlin and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Whaley, “are both brilliant,” said Charles Arntzen, a plant biotechnology expert at Arizona State University who collaborated with the two researchers years ago. “They are very, very bright guys and free spirits”…

Mapp’s drug is being developed with Toronto-based Defyrus Inc., which has six employees, according to Defyrus CEO Jeff Turner. ZMapp is a “cocktail” of monoclonal antibodies that help the immune system attack the virus…Kentucky BioProcessing LLC, a subsidiary of tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. (RAI), manufactures the treatment for Mapp from tobacco plants…

The tobacco plant production system was developed because it was a method that could produce antibodies rapidly in the event of an emergency, he said. To produce therapeutic proteins inside a tobacco plant, genes for the desired antibodies are fused to genes for a natural tobacco virus, said Arntzen. The tobacco plants are then infected with this new artificial virus, he said. “The infection results in the production of antibodies inside the plant,” Arntzen said. The plant is eventually ground up and the antibody is extracted, he said. The whole process takes a matter of weeks.

We have no idea if ZMapp is the best treatment for ebola, but we know it worked in several cases. We also know that the San Diego and Toronto companies total 15 employees between them. This is real and real-time, not silly fantasies like Solyndra. We need a ZMapp Manhattan Project at Warp Speed to avoid disaster.

Now, insanity and theater via NYT:

Senior administration officials said Monday night that the Department of Defense would open a joint command operation in Monrovia, Liberia, to coordinate the international effort to combat the disease. The military will also provide engineers to help construct the additional treatment facilities and will send enough people to train up to 500 health care workers a week to deal with the crisis. Officials said the military expected to send as many as 3,000 people to Africa to take charge of responding to the Ebola outbreak.

The American government will also provide 400,000 Ebola home health and treatment kits to Liberia, as well as tens of thousands of kits intended to test whether people have the disease. The Pentagon will provide some logistical equipment for health workers going to West Africa and what administration officials described as “command and control” organizational assistance on how to coordinate the overall relief work. The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to be part of the Defense Department effort. Administration officials did not say how soon the 17 treatment centers would be built in Liberia; officials there, as well as international aid officials, have said that 1,000 beds are needed in Liberia in the next week alone

Instead of putting American soldiers in harm’s way for no apparent benefit, wouldn’t it have been a better idea to clone Mapp and its promising rivals in multiple US, European and other medical research centers, and devote massive resources to ramping up production of ZMapp and other drugs with similar laboratory success?

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