A handful of patients in the largest-ever Ebola outbreak have been treated with an experimental drug called ZMapp. American missionaries Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol both received the drug and were recently released from the hospital.
A Liberian doctor treated with the drug died on Sunday. The medicine is made through “biopharming,” a relatively new and promising way to create drugs through genetic engineering, but the technology is stymied by regulation and fear-mongering.
Obtaining medicines from plants is not new. Many common medicines, such as morphine, codeine and the fiber supplement Metamucil are all purified from plants. But biopharming employs genetic engineering techniques to use crops such as corn, tomatoes and tobacco to produce high concentrations of high-value pharmaceuticals. In the case of MZapp, that means producing high concentrations of antibodies.
There is great potential in biopharmed medicines. The primary raw materials—water and carbon dioxide—are cheap. Biopharming also offers tremendous flexibility and economy. Doubling the acreage of a crop requires far less capital than doubling the capacity of a bricks-and-mortar factory. This allows drug companies to delay expensive investments in production facilities until later in the clinical-testing cycle or until the market for the new drug can be better estimated.
Read the full, original story: Genetic engineering and the fight against Ebola