UPDATE 3-Ebola therapy hopes shift to small California biotech

Mon Aug 4, 2014 6:54pm EDT
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(Adds Mapp Biopharmaceutical statement, paragraphs 7-8)

By Bill Berkrot and Akane Otani

Aug 4 (Reuters) - Hopes of finding a treatment for the deadly Ebola virus shifted on Monday to a small California-based biotech company whose experimental drug has been used to treat two American missionary workers.

The drug, developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc, was used to treat two aid workers, one from the Samaritan's Purse group and the other from Christian mission group SIM USA, who were exposed to the disease in Liberia, according to a U.S. government health official.

The Samaritan Purse aid worker, Dr Kent Brantly, returned to the United States on Saturday for medical care, and his colleague Nancy Writebol of SIM USA is due to fly back via medical aircraft on Tuesday.

Samaritan's Purse said both the aid workers received the experimental treatment while in Liberia.

News of the treatment, first reported by CNN, punctured a share price rally in Canada's Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, whose own experimental Ebola treatment had progressed to human trials. The severity of the current outbreak in Africa, in which nearly 900 people have died, has raised investor expectations that Tekmira's treatment might move more quickly toward regulatory approval.

The treatment developed by Mapp, called ZMapp, had only been tested in monkeys. Treatment with experimental drugs that have not gone through the customary series of clinical trials in humans to determine safety and efficacy is highly unusual.

Privately-held Mapp and its affiliated commercial partner Leaf Biopharmaceutical, said the biotech drug was only identified as a potential treatment candidate in January and that as a result very little ZMapp is currently available.   Continued...