LATEST UPDATE HERE … new numbers just in from WHO, and they are bad.

I had suspected this might be the case. Disease like Ebola are potentially easily cured using serum. Here’s the idea. Someone gets the disease and survives, and their body now produces products that give them an immunity. So, you take a bunch of their blood, clean it up as best you can, and inject the serum (the cleaned up blood, to oversimplify) with these immune products, in to a person with the disease. That stops the disease, at least some of the time. The early history of the discovery of many nasty viruses involves several stories like this, where a researcher or physician is infected, seemingly likely to die, and is given a serum and lives.

The serum treatment is potentially very dangerous because it can include who knows what from the other person’s blood. But it is quite reasonable to suggest that we can make a product that is based on serum that is clean and effective. In this case, specific products were obtained from infected mice.

And, apparently, there is such a thing, it is a secret, and it is reserved only for select individuals (because there probably isn’t much). Oh, and it is totally experimental and until now, never before tried on humans. From CNN:

Three top secret, experimental vials stored at subzero temperatures were flown into Liberia last week in a last-ditch effort to save two American missionary workers who had contracted Ebola, according to a source familiar with details of the treatment.

A representative from the National Institutes of Health contacted Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia and offered the experimental treatment, known as ZMapp, for the two patients, according to the source.

According to company documents, four monkeys infected with Ebola survived after being given the therapy within 24 hours after infection. Two of four additional monkeys that started therapy within 48 hours after infection also survived. One monkey that was not treated died within five days of exposure to the virus.

…In the monkeys, the experimental serum had been given within 48 hours of infection. Brantly didn’t receive it until he’d been sick for nine days.

The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mice’s blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.

Brantly asked that Writebol be given the first dose because he was younger and he thought he had a better chance of fighting it, and she agreed. However, as the first vial was still thawing, Brantley’s condition took a sudden turn for the worse.

Brantly began to deteriorate and developed labored breathing. He told his doctors, “I am going to die,” according to a source with firsthand knowledge of the situation.

Knowing his dose was still frozen, Brantly asked if he could have Writebol’s now-thawed medication. It was brought to his room and administered through an IV. Within an hour of receiving the medication, Brantly’s condition was nearly reversed. His breathing improved; the rash over his trunk faded away. …

Writebol also received a vial of the medication. Her response was not as remarkable, according to sources familiar with the treatment. However, doctors on Sunday administered Writebol a second dose of the medication, which resulted in significant improvement.

This is an untested drug that is not available for general use. This has led to some argument of whether or not it can be called a “treatment” or a “cure” because it has not yet gone though the process of development, testing, and deployment. One could call it a “potential cure.” The key point, is, that it could be developed and implemented, and since the science of making an antibody basted treatment is well established, it is hard to understand why this has not happened. yet. I suggest that all it would take is deciding to spend the money and effort on developing it, rather than simply ignoring Ebola because it is not Malaria.

If I was President Obama, I’d simply order the military to take this to the next step. The US Army has done as much research on Ebola as any other agency. It would be a simple matter to move a few budget items around and allow USAMRIID organize, using its own people and consultants, to move forward (because you know the present Congress is never going to authorize spending money on helping sick people in Africa, even though this is also very much about the United States.

It is the right thing to do.

Comments

  1. #1 sailor
    August 4, 2014

    Good post. Though I have to say when I read your headline I thought you had gone over to dark side of natural health news or some such.

  2. #2 Octamer
    United States
    August 4, 2014

    That headline is quite over dramatic and very disappointing. I would imagine something like “There is a(n experimental) cure for Ebola, we have it, we just don’t (have enough of it and therefore don’t) let anyone use it” would paint a more reasonable picture like the rest of your post.

  3. […] There is a cure for Ebola, we have it, we just don’t let anyone use it. [Via Greg Laden's Blog] […]

  4. #4 Doug Alder
    August 4, 2014

    Also Tekmira Pharmaceuticals in Vancouver has developed a vaccine to prevent infection in the first place. The NIH is going to start trials shortly http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/31/ebola-vaccine-trial/13404609/

    @sailor I thought I had accidentally been redirected to Alex Jones’s site for a sec from that headline ;)

  5. #5 Cat
    USA
    August 4, 2014

    I am delighted to hear this news about the improvement of Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol. I am on the other hand deeply disturbed that once again, the lives of poor, black people don’t matter. Sadly, I agree that money will not be spent to help those suffering in Africa. It reminds me of Katrina in a way. Immoral.

  6. #6 kofybean
    August 4, 2014

    You can’t go around giving experimental drugs to people en masse without knowing the full side effects. However, if life saving treatment is only given to those with the right color, race, money, political party, nationality, whatever, etc… then that is a clear human rights violation.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    August 4, 2014

    Kofybean, exactly. The bigger picture, though, I think, is that a serum based cure is theoretically very possible, has been used with this class of disease before, and we now know that research on it has advanced quite a way. I want to see that research and implementation pushed forward vigorously, right now.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    August 4, 2014

    Octamer: Yes, disappointment was absolutely the emotion I was going for because it applies here. As for your suggested headline, it is too long.

  9. […] Other bloggers have written about potential antibody-based antiserums for Ebola, here and here. While the Ebola glycoprotein is particularly good at evading your body's natural immune system, […]

  10. #10 Matt
    AZ, USA
    August 4, 2014

    “We don’t let anyone use it”

    Please. It’s not like there are silos of it sitting around ready for use and someone has their hand on the spigot. Demonstrate some intellectual integrity. Some better summaries of the situation:

    “It would be highly unethical, and in fact illegal to distribute, due to minor inconveniences like efficacy, side effects including lethality, extreme cost and international law.”

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    August 4, 2014

    You should probably read my other post, Matt.

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2014/08/02/ebola-perspective-risks-of-spread-to-the-us-and-elsewhere/

    The idea, and indeed, the practice, of using serum based antibody treatments has been in play for decades. This is a treatment that we have had under our belts for a long time. Until today I had no idea that this was developed to the extent it was. The integrity and ethical related issue here is that we have had the ability to un orphan Ebola for a long time and all we really did was to produce a couple of doses.

  12. #12 DontTrustGov
    August 4, 2014

    We’ve had a solution since at least 2012. Google search “MB-003 ebola”. US has been funding it thru the military us army bio-tech division (usamriid.army.mil), but haven’t released it.

    A quote from the document ““Our facility can produce these proteins in two weeks at a substantial reduction in cost to other production methods,” said Bratcher. “This advanced method of manufacturing allows us to address needs quickly and inexpensively.”
    Zeitlin said Mapp recently announced formation

  13. #13 Brainstorms
    August 4, 2014

    @Cat: It reminds me more of the infamous Tuskeegee Syphilis study:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskeegee_Syphilis_Study

    Perhaps we have the ‘African Ebola Study’ today? (No, it’s not the same, of course, because as far as we know, no government is intentionally infecting anyone with Ebola. But the ‘withholding of treatment’ issue is relevant…)

  14. #14 Scott
    August 4, 2014

    If that was a research study in 2012 it certainly isn’t likely to be ready for clinical trials yet. Perhaps they can work out a deal with african countries for a no-liability use of this experimental vaccine.

    But things aren’t as simple as they seem to be inside some people’s own minds and it’s always easy to see a conspiracy.

    Look at things such as the swine flu outbreak of 1976 with a vaccine rushed to market and it causing over 500 cases of Guillain–Barré because of some problems (undoubtably tested more than this serum). Yes, I’m aware that some people are more equal than others in the US and some horrible things have happened in the past here. This is also quite true in other countries, in case you haven’t noticed.

    “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” — Hanlon’s razor

    Maybe it is malice, but if so I’ll wait to see evidence. It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of problems for people to focus on and a dearth of people willing to do something useful about them (unless of course they’ll make billions and be made permanently wealthy from doing so, then it may attract some people).

    I also don’t particularly see why the US is solely to blame. There are mentions of a Canadian experimental vaccine and undoubtedly other researches around the world have been working on this and similar problems, not just in the US. I guess we shouldn’t have used the two vials of existing, experimental serum on our own citizens.

    But of course it’s the fault of the US “because we don’t like darkies” or so the implication goes.

    The US has its problems, but I get a bit tired of the smug pessimism in order to make click bait. Of course, whatever it takes–we don’t actually want discourse, but our culture has taken the lesson of the tabloids, Fox News and Hollywood scriptwriters handbooks to heart. The more shocking, the better ’cause it will get you traffic and attention. Yay.

    I run into a number of Europeans who are happy to rail against the US at many opportunities, but I have to say there are also problems in Europe, especially with regards to racism, few opportunities for minority and immigrant groups, failures to integrate them into societies and valuing some people much more than others. Unfortunately it’s not just a US problem, though some other countries may talk about it more (though sometimes little action actually occurs).

  15. #15 Matt
    AZ, USA
    August 4, 2014

    Having “the idea of serum-based antibody treatments” and “tested medications ready for human use” are absolutely worlds apart in pharmacology. You should know that.

    It’s not withholding treatment unless “treatment” exists. And if it hasn’t made it through the approval process, it’s not “treatment”. This is the same for Ebola in Africa as it is for rare cancers in the U.S. Furthermore, Ebola is a tough disease to run clinical trials on, for obvious reasons. Unless of course you’re proposing that drug manufacturers use sub-Saharan Africa as a testing ground for high-risk clinical drug trials and suggest that there is some sort of red button to push that makes that happen across legal systems, medical delivery networks, economies and continents.

    Where do you assign liability when this treatment produces side-effects (such as, say, delayed consequences in offspring for example)?

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    August 4, 2014

    Matt, I know that and it is not the point.

    I agree that this not a case of withholding treatment.

    I don’t see the point in assuming that a treatment can’t be tested and deployed in Africa. There are diseases in that region for which treatments exist and are deployed. That it is hard and that you can’t imagine how it might be done are not very convincing arguments!

  17. #17 L.Long
    August 4, 2014

    “….It would be a simple matter to move a few budget items around and allow USAMRIID organize,….”
    Are you crazy??!!?? Take some of the military budget and use it to help poor dying people!!!!
    Next you’ll be asking for some of the VERY EXCESSIVE military budget to help with helping americans!!!
    You are crazy!!

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    August 4, 2014

    So sue me! Or, actually, Sue Obama!

  19. #19 Admire Mariatu Sesay
    Freetown Sierra Leone
    August 5, 2014

    Am so delighted with joy that there’s now a cure for Ebola and I thank you guys for your efforts.I think the idea of testing the treatment should be tested in all the infected countries to cure the people with the ebola virus as soon as possible before it gets too late,This ZMAPP serum cure for Ebola is a good news and I pray that is enough to cure all d people infected.

  20. #20 decadent westerner
    August 5, 2014

    Ebola has been looked at over the years as a possible biological weapon, it’d be stupid to think weaponisation has been sought but there was no thought given to controlling the thing.

    And yes, western countries (without a doubt) effectively sit by whilst diseases like this kill people in the developing world.

    Rich and poor are relative. I really have a hard time these days seeing how far too many people in this world try to get rich not through innovation or hard work or otherwise creating value, but by trying to make other people poor. Illness is a great way to keep people down – the only thing I can see with the US resisting nationalised health care is because capital owners feel their position is in-part secured by people being reliant, desperate even, on the capital owners for maintaining their health. Illness, and risk of, is used to keep people poor. And I think the same kind of thing scales across our planet.

  21. #21 G
    August 5, 2014

    Sheesh!, people, stop the silly emotionalizing!

    This is really straightforward: There is an experimental serum. It was probably developed to test a hypothesis or three, and there the matter rested because the cost of scaling this up would have been much higher per life saved than that of numerous other public health priorities that save far more lives each year.

    Bringing a highly experimental medicine into an outbreak where people are already blaming health care workers (HCWs) for causing Ebola, risks creating a situation where the very first patient who dies after receiving the serum, becomes an instant viral meme that causes an enormous backlash against any further use of the medicine.

    Damned if we do, damned if we don’t, but here we have two well-educated Americans who have volunteered to be guinea pigs, and whose responses to the serums will be studied in excruciating detail. That could lead to a viable route to scale this up and start treating patients in Africa.

    But the other thing that’s desperately needed, and will put the brakes on this epidemic, is mass education about the virus, _and culture change_, in rural Africa. For anyone who’s tempted to write off “those ignorant people over there who can’t be taught to change their funeral customs,” I have news for you:

    Try teaching Americans about the lifestyle changes we’ll need to make in order to avert a climate catastrophe that many scientists now say poses a risk of human extinction over the next couple hundred years. We have cures for _that_ too: renewables, nuclear, and conservation. And those cures are hardly a secret.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    August 5, 2014

    G: the question here, as you point out, is not whether or not an experimental cure should have been brought to bear on the West African 2014 outbreak. The question here is whether or not the development of a serum based cure (or a vaccine) could have been advanced over recent years to the point where we would be in a better position now.

  23. #23 Ebola - ZooNerd
    August 5, 2014

    […] out, there is one treatment that can be used as a last resort (to the extent it is available): serum. Serum is a time-honored approach to fighting disease: it is essentially blood components extracted […]

  24. #25 lilian
    lagos
    August 6, 2014

    Why keep this drug there people who needle it pls save this people

  25. #26 Paul Bass
    August 6, 2014

    Greg, you are horribly misleading people. This treatment is not a serum, it is not as simple as filtering blood.

    First step, inject mice with ebola glycoproteins,
    step 2, inert cancer,
    step 3 extract cancer cells that are producing antibodies AND replicating,
    step 4 find the correct antibodies that attach ONLY to the ebola virus,
    step 5 sequence the genes that produce those antibodies, take off the mice parts and splice in human genes so the body does not reject them,
    step 6 insert said genes into tobacco plants so they can produce the antibodies.

    Now do you see why it is so experimental? They are using gene splicing and three different species to produce the antibodies, it is not as simple as making a serum.

    Please stop picking and choosing which information you disclose so you can distort the story to your opinion, you cited the CNN piece which states the process, yet you choose to leave out ANY mention of the gene splicing or the tobacco plants producing the antibodies.

  26. #27 Peasnquiet
    August 6, 2014

    Ebola vs malaria? You mean the malaria that infected over 200 million people and killed 600000 people in 2012 alone?

    It’s not a simple matter of waving a wand and thus expecting the research to be done – there are tonnes of hoops that need to be jumped.

  27. #28 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2014

    Please see the context post linked to at the bottom of this one for a detailed response Peasnquiet.

  28. #29 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2014

    Paul, it is a serum based technology. Your suggestion that I am picking and chooseng information to intentionally create a misleading blog post is trollish. I appreciate that you want to bring in more informarption and detai, and thanks for that, but it is of little use if your mode of presentation is accusatory and combative.

  29. #30 musa abdulrazaq
    nigeria
    August 6, 2014

    why dont you help the rest of the infected

  30. #31 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2014

    What do you mean?

  31. #32 Musa abdulrazaq
    August 6, 2014

    Ok first please explain how the serum is

  32. #33 Mohammed Hassan Mannir
    Nigeria
    August 7, 2014

    THIS VIRUS EBOLA WAS BROUGHT TO AFRICA IN ORDER TO REDUCE THE POPULATION. IF NOT HOW CAN SOME BODY WITH P.hd, WILL SAY THAT THEY HAVE THE CURE BUT NOT FOR BLACKS THAT IS THE MEANING OF HIS STATEMENT

  33. #34 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2014

    MHN, no, Ebola lives in fruit bats and occasionally affects humans. Your caps lock key is on.

  34. #35 Stevo Raine
    August 7, 2014

    @Mohammed Hassan Mannir : Do you realise the internet convention is that caps lock means SHOUTING?

    Which generally isn’t seen as good.

    Also your conspiracy theory makes you seem bad too. Ebola originated and evolved in Africa along with related filovirus’es like Marburg and has had a few previous outbreaks there long ago.

    There are better ways (in both senses of the word – more ethical and more effective) of reducing the population than ebola too.

  35. #36 victor
    lagos
    August 7, 2014

    pls dose who are in possession of d cure for dis deadly virus shud pls as a matter of urgency let africans have it as soon as possible b4 we all die.

  36. #37 Stacey Nickleberry
    August 7, 2014

    There is a cure, however it must not have included the people of Africa..how inhuman..a bunch of racist pigs that will kill people because of their color..

  37. #38 Abdullahi
    Kebbi, Nigeria
    August 7, 2014

    Pls as a matter of urgency make the ebola cure available to affected African countries

  38. #39 stephen osman kamara
    sierra leone jui lordep freetown
    August 9, 2014

    How can someone say we have got the cure but we dont want other people to use it O we the poor Africans my fellow sierra leoneans lets pray to God for the end time has come

  39. […] There is a cure for Ebola, we have it, we just don’t let anyone use it. (Greg’s not quite right on how the vaccine is made–this is how it’s made) On antiserum and Ebola virus The Surprising Cause of Most ‘Spider Bites’ After a long journey from Africa, a new tropical disease sets up shop in Florida (this is bad. Really bad) […]

  40. #41 Scott Garren
    August 11, 2014

    Back before antibiotics serums were used very commonly. Local doctors made their own using horses as donors. A great book that details that period of medical history in a very similar context is The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History Paperback by John M. Barry

  41. #42 Greg Laden
    August 11, 2014

    Scott, I will have to check that book out! Serums are still made with horses, I’m thinking, or at least, last time I needed to buy a bunch of snake serum that was the case (though it has been a while).

  42. #43 rijkswaanvijand
    August 12, 2014

    “The integrity and ethical related issue here is that we have had the ability to un orphan Ebola for a long time and all we really did was to produce a couple of doses.”
    My sentiments exactly! I’d like to propose this a form of genocide by omission.

  43. #44 ws
    September 5, 2014

    You know your post can be taken more seriously if you can write like an educated academic and not a random high school kid

  44. #45 Greg Laden
    September 5, 2014

    Don’t us the word “random” it sounds so, like, random.

  45. #46 Tim
    September 5, 2014

    Regarding ZMapp —

    Okay, wait for it, wait for it. You’re gonna love this. Folks, you’re absolutely going to love this. Well, wait. Maybe some of you won’t love this. Let me speak for myself. I love this. You know that magical serum that was given to two white Americans suffering from Ebola? You know what the magic ingredient is? Nicotine.

    — Rush Limbaugh

    http://dailyrushbo.com/rush-nicotine-is-the-magical-ingredient-in-the-ebola-magic-serum/

    HA! I can just hear the back-channel in his ear now (too bad he can’t — too much Viagra): “Rush!, No!, Wait! Rush!…”

  46. #47 Greg Laden
    September 5, 2014

    Well, a connection that I have always thought interesting has been made here! Ebola is a filovirus. Filoviruses and some related viruses are plant viruses (as well as animal viruses). One of the more famous plant viruses, researched heavily because of its economic impact, is Tobacco Mosaic Virus. It is in the same group. The exact taxonomy has been revised and is probably almost unknowable given the lack of genetic material, but it is fair to say that Ebola and TMV are in a group of viruses.

    I think there could just maybe be a connection betetwen filovirus infection of plants and fruit bats being a main reservoir of a filovirus. Something in antiquity?

  47. #48 Tim
    September 5, 2014

    The VP40 protein is the driving force in Ebola virus particle formation and budding

    http://jvi.asm.org/content/79/16/10300.full

    ^^ Now, that stuff is mostly all Myan tobacco to me but I’ve heard tell that the VP40 is the same on HIV as Ebola or it has an exact protien, or something, and that is supposed to be very unlikely to occur naturally. {The intimation was that they were both man-manipulated, of course.}

    True? False? Like saying, “Well, yes. Everybody poops…”
    ———————————————–

    Filoviruses and some related viruses are plant viruses (as well as animal viruses)

    So, is the backwater Canadian biotech doing what nature has perhaps already done to reverse engineer it into a serum??

  48. #49 Greg Laden
    September 5, 2014

    Viral matrix proteins are standard parts of a very wide range of viruses. They occur naturally.

  49. #50 Tim
    September 5, 2014

    So did JAVA.

  50. #51 Tim
    September 5, 2014

    @Scott #14

    Get a shot of protection — The swineflu shot

  51. #52 The Spanish Inquisition
    September 5, 2014

    the development of a serum based cure (or a vaccine) could have been advanced over recent years to the point where we would be in a better position now

    In the name of the Holy Father, stop poking people with pustulence!

  52. #53 Tim's backchannel
    September 5, 2014

    my google broke… what is the html tag convention to close a quote????

    thx for your support.

  53. #54 Tim
    September 5, 2014

    Umm, ignore that last poster… He no longer works here after watching Altered States one too many times…..

  54. #55 Tim
    September 6, 2014

    @greg #47 asks, “Something in antiquity?”

    Something like dodder?

    Previously, Westwood discovered that along with these nutrients, the weed also transports RNA, the genetic material cells use to translate instructions in the organism’s DNA

    http://livescience.com/47375-vampire-plants-suck-victims-genes.html

  55. #56 Ben Ngo
    September 16, 2014

    Its been proven FROM TIME TO TIME again that the people in Africa are malnourished. Those poor people ARE NOT GETTING the nutrients their bodies need to survive. So when something Ebola comes along and attacks, millions of them die because of this nutrient deficiency. If we want to see an increase in survivability, we must not only address Ebola with a drug we must also start feeding them healthy and foods full of nutrients. That way we build their immune system allowing it to fight along with the drugs once we can conjure one and start administering them. A 1v1 is usually hard to win especially if your opponent is smarter then you. In this case, Ebola would be considered “smarter” then us humans. 2v1 you have a higher chance. Lets just hope that the world can somehow come up with a drugs to help fight against Ebola and start feeding the people of Africa good and healthy foods. Like vegetables and everything.

  56. #57 Greg Laden
    September 16, 2014

    I don’t want to advocate nutrition as a replacement for the serious tools for fighting a deadly infectious disease like Ebola, but you do have a point. The mortality rate for Ebola in well fed Americans is very high. But it is also probably true that the mortality rate for people with Ebola is higher for people who get zero modern medical style help (mainly an IV etc). There are probably a number of reasons for that, but starting out well nourished vs. not (or otherwise ill) must be a factor.

  57. #58 Ben Ngo
    September 16, 2014

    @Greg Laden
    I believe that we can contain this deadly virus, but we must do it intelligently. We’ve had 10 cases in America now? And 8 of 10 so far have survived? If that is so, then we must doing something right. We now must continue to build on that. And we can start with good nutritional support and making drugs that hopefully have lesser side effects. Usually that leads to better results. Eating right, was one of the foremost important things we were taught when we were kids mostly in elementary school. And as it would seem, society has forgotten that and with the level obesity rates especially in America.

  58. #59 Greg Laden
    September 16, 2014

    I don’t think there is any evidence that diet reduces Ebola mortality to 20 percent

  59. #60 Brainstorms
    September 16, 2014

    Diet certainly IS important, but it may be that particular nutrients needed for proper, robust immune response have a greater effect than overall diet.

    This is especially true for nutrients that humans are prone to be deficient in, such Vitamin D and Vitamin C (esp. when C is combined with Zinc).

    It would be interesting to conduct studies to determine infection rates and outcomes for those who are deficient vs those who aren’t/those given supplements to achieve high serum levels of C & D. There’s quite a bit of reported correlation between deficiency & disease in the literature as regards other maladies.