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ASU professor part of potential Ebola cure

PHOENIX — Arizona State University Regents Professor Dr. Charles J. Arntzen has an interest in plant biotechnology that put him on a journey to create what could be the cure for the deadly Ebola virus.

In the early 2000s, Arntzen partnered with Dr. Larry Zeitlin, president of Mapp Biopharmaceutical. Together, they wrote a grant proposal, received funding from the U.S. Army and set out to research antibodies and vaccines against Ebola.

ZMapp, which is an experimental biopharmaceutical drug, is comprised of three antibodies that were first discovered at Mapp’s headquarters, located in San Diego.

“The three antibodies are produced in tobacco plants,” explained Arntzen. “After purification, you end up with a vial containing antibodies, which are virtually the same that you’d find in human blood.”

The novel treatment had only been tested on animals — until two American aid workers infected with the virus were administered the medication.

“We were concerned that we were doing something that might not work, but in the case of these two patients, they had little choice,” Arntzen said. “I’d been told they were planning their funerals. If I were in that situation and given the opportunity to take it, I don’t think I’d hesitate a moment.”

Experts say it could take years of testing before ZMapp is deemed the cure for Ebola. It is not available in mass supply.