Protalix, an Israeli biopharmaceutical company located outside of the northern city of Carmiel, said Saturday that it has the resources to produce the experimental Ebola vaccine, ZMapp, which has recently run out.
In an interview with Channel 2, Protalix’s Dr. Yossi Shaaltiel, the executive vice president of research and development said: “Today our production capacity exceeds our needs, and we would certainly be happy to have the company producing the Ebola drug have us produce the drug for them. We would know how to do it effectively, in large quantities, and in a relatively short period of time.”
Shaaltiel said the company is more proficient in the genetic engineering of tobacco plants — from which the ZMapp medication is drawn — than any other plant. The TV report maintained that the facilities in northern Israel were more advanced, and better equipped than the greenhouses in the US where production of the ZMapp drug takes place.
When the company started out, Shaaltiel said, “We were considered crazy.”
“Now we are proving that we are the only ones working with the [kind of] plants that [are developed into] pharmaceutical drugs which are approved,” he said.
Of the seven people infected with the Ebola virus known to have been treated with ZMapp, two have died — a Liberian doctor and a Spanish priest. The priest received only one of three planned doses. Two Americans recovered, as have two Africans who received ZMapp in Liberia — a Congolese doctor and a Liberian physician’s assistant who were expected to be released from a treatment center on Saturday. A British nurse also received the drug, reportedly the two unused doses left over from treating the Spanish priest.
Doctors have said there is no way to know whether ZMapp made a difference or if the survivors recovered on their own, as about 45 percent of people infected in this outbreak have.
ZMapp’s maker, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., of San Diego, California, has said the small supply of the drug is now exhausted and that it will take several months to make more. The drug is grown in tobacco plants and was developed with US government support.
An official said it takes about a month to make 20 to 40 doses at a Kentucky plant where the drug is being produced. Officials have said they are looking at other facilities and other ways to ramp up production, and Kobinger said there were plans for a clinical trial to test ZMapp in people early next year.
Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people this year and the World Health Organization says there could be as many as 20,000 cases before the outbreak is brought under control. On Friday, it spread to a fifth African country — Senegal, where a university student who traveled there from Guinea was being treated.
There is no approved vaccine or specific treatment, just supportive care to keep those who contracted the disease hydrated and nourished. Efforts have focused on finding cases and tracking their contacts to limit the disease, which spreads through contact with blood and other fluids.
AP contributed to this report.