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HHS signs contract to accelerate Ebola medication development

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday announced that it has signed a contract with Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. to hasten the development and production of the Ebola medication ZMapp. ZMapp is an experimental drug which thus far has shown positive results in laboratory testing and in limited human treatment for combating the Ebola virus.

In the HHS statement Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Nicole Lurie noted, “While ZMapp has received a lot of attention, it is one of several treatments under development for Ebola, and we still have very limited data on its safety and efficacy. Developing drugs and vaccines to protect against Ebola as a biological threat has been a long-term goal of the U.S. government, and today’s agreement represents an important step forward.”

According to Reuters last week, in laboratory tests ZMapp was 100% effective in curing 18 infected monkeys of Ebola. The treatment was effective in cases where the monkeys were many days into the disease, even in cases near death. In addition, the drug was used on two Americans who had contracted the deadly disease in Africa, both of whom survived. However, the effectiveness on human subjects is still a scientific unknown.

The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is in charge of funding the 18-month, $24.9 million project and has the option to extend the contract to $42.3 million. A targeted date for approval by the Food and Drug Administration has not yet been released. The contract includes the use of ZMapp in clinical studies on humans. Only small quantities of the drug are presently available, though through this agreement production will increase in order to treat human patients.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the current Ebola virus strain presently active in western Africa is mostly spread through human-to-human contact. It has an incubation period from the time a person is infected until symptoms occur of 2 days to 21 days. Without treatment the survival rate for those infected with Ebola is only 47 percent. As of last Friday’s situation update from the WHO there were a total of 1,546 deaths due to the disease in the African nations of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

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