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Firm Developed Ebola Drug with DoD Funding

A closely held Kentucky firm developed the experimental drug to combat the deadly Ebola virus with funding from the U.S. Defense Department.

Kentucky BioProcessing, based in Owensboro, in recent years received millions of dollars from the Pentagon to develop the drug cocktail that may have saved the lives of two American missionaries who contracted the deadly disease in West Africa.

The company in 2010 received a one-year, $18 million contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop "a proof-of-concept platform capable of yielding a purified vaccine candidate using a whole plant-based process," according to an announcement detailing the agreement.

The highly experimental research involves making a drug cocktail of three antibodies from "specially modified tobacco plants, which are harvested, ground up into a green liquid, purified and turned into tiny doses -- perhaps half a gram or a gram," according to an article on Tuesday by Lenny Bernstein and Brady Dennis of The Washington Post.

Kentucky BioProcessing is the only entity approved by the U.S. government to make the antibodies, though the actual serum given to the American missionaries Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol is called ZMapp and was produced in collaboration with Mapp Biopharmaceutical, based in San Diego.

That firm has a three-year, $10 million contract from the Defense Advanced Threat Reduction Agency, the newspaper reported.

It's unclear how much time or money it would take to develop enough of the medication to help control the worst-ever Ebola outbreak. The article quoted a professor who said 10,000 doses could be produced in a month.

Barry Bratcher, chief operating officer of Kentucky BioProcessing, has said the plant-based system is an advanced method of manufacturing that results in lower costs and minimal production time.

"Our facility can produce these proteins in two weeks at a substantial reduction in cost to other production methods,” he told the Army in a press release last year.

Several other promising vaccines and treatments for Ebola are in various stages of development after three decades of work by researchers, according to The Washington Post.

One of the world's most virulent diseases, Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and issues of infected animals or people. Since the outbreak began earlier this year, the virus has infected more than 1,600 people, killing almost 900 of them, in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

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