Health
Spanish Defense Ministry/AP

Spanish priest infected with Ebola to receive experimental treatment

Same drug given to two American aid workers; African leaders say they have asked for it, but told few doses available

A Spanish missionary who contracted the often-fatal Ebola virus in Liberia amid an outbreak in several West African countries will reportedly be treated with the same experimental medication that was given to two American aid workers days ago.

The drug, called ZMapp, is made by San Diego-based company Mapp Pharmaceuticals and is still in the extremely early stages of development. It had only been tested on monkeys, and its side effects are still unknown. Leaders in West African countries have said they requested the drug from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but were told that only a few doses were available.

Ebola outbreak
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Spain’s drug safety agency said it allowed the “exceptional importation” of the experimental drug under a law that allows the “use of non-authorized medications in cases where a patient’s life is in danger and they can’t be treated satisfactorily with an authorized medication,” the agency said in a statement, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais.

The Roman Catholic priest, 75-year-old Miguel Pajares, was flown back to Spain from the Liberian capital of Monrovia on Thursday. He is reportedly in stable condition but at his request no additional health updates will be given, Spanish news website The Local reported.

ZMapp resulted from collaboration between Mapp, San Diego-based LeafBio, and Toronto-based Defyrus Inc. – a biodefense company that collaborates with the U.S. military – according to Forbes.

The drug was previously given to two American aid workers who contracted the virus in Liberia. They appear to be recovering, although it is not clear what impact ZMapp has had on their health. But their improving conditions are significant, as the virus in the current outbreak has about a 60 percent mortality rate. Other Ebola outbreaks have involved death rates of up to 90 percent.

The post-exposure treatment, which Mapp began working on in 2007, is made from antibodies produced in a specific species of tobacco; the same species was used in the development of a pandemic influenza virus. In ZMapp trials, six of six monkeys survived after being given the treatment within one hour of infection. Four of six lived when treated within 48 hours, Forbes said.

The Americans treated with ZMapp were given the medication several days after they were infected.

Nearly 1,000 people have died from the most recent Ebola outbreak, which has spread in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever transmitted through bodily fluids, often resulting in bleeding from the eyes, ears and mouth.

Nigerian Health Minister Onyenbuchi Chukwu said Wednesday at a news conference that he had asked the CDC about gaining access to ZMapp. The New York Times said that Liberia had also asked about getting the drug. A CDC spokesman said the same day that there were “virtually no doses available,” according to The Associated Press.

The World Health Organization has planned a meeting of medical ethicists this week to discuss the use of experimental drugs, and whether it is ethical to give unproven and potentially dangerous drugs to those infected with the virus.

Three of the world’s top Ebola experts recently called for experimental drugs to be offered to West Africans, saying they should be given the same choice to accept the risks of the treatment as the two American aid workers.

“African governments should be allowed to make informed decisions about whether or not to use these products — for example to protect and treat healthcare workers who run especially high risks of infection,” the experts said in a statement.

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