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Plant-Based Ebola Drug Tests Well on Monkeys

An experimental Ebola drug has demonstrated the ability in laboratory testing to protect monkeys exposed to the lethal fast-acting hemorrhagic fever virus, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases announced in a Monday press release.

None of the rhesus macaques who received the mixture of monoclonal antibodies known as mAbs an hour following exposure to the disease died, according to a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When the monkeys received the MB-003 antibiotic "cocktail" two days after their contamination with Ebola, 66 percent survived.

Ebola death rates among humans can be as high as nine out of 10 people. At present there are no antibiotics or vaccines licensed for use against the disease, which is considered a serious potential biological weapon.

"It is rare that an antiviral compound prevents Ebola virus infection with limited to no morbidity in treated animals at any point of treatment following infection by this lethal virus," principal investigator and USAMRIID virologist Gene Olinger said in provided remarks. "Until recently, attempts to utilize antibodies to provide protection against Ebola virus have been met with failure. The level of protection against disease that we saw with MB-003 was impressive."

The antibiotic was generated using tobacco plants -- a method that allows for faster production and at a lower cost, according to Kentucky BioProcessing Chief Operating Officer Barry Bratcher, whose company created the production process.

Financing for research into the experimental Ebola treatment was provided by multiple U.S. government agencies.

KBP chairman Hugh Haydon told the Kentucky Messenger-Inquirer that more studies are needed to determine the drug's effectiveness window after disease exposure, as well as appropriate dosage amounts. "We have to determine the proper mixture," he said. After those issues have been properly assessed, human clinical trials can begin.

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