The Texas A&M University System is emerging as a global leader in the production of a new vaccine to combat the emerging worldwide Ebola threat. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working with Texas A&M to sharply increase production of ZMapp, viewed by many experts as the most promising experimental drug for treating people infected with Ebola. Texas A&M will work to produce the drug in millions of tobacco plants much more inexpensively, quickly and in far larger quantities than possible using the traditional chicken egg method. An article in The New York Times from October 1, 2014 tells the story: The U.S. Will Increase Production of the Ebola Drug Zmapp, but May Not Meet Demand.
ZMapp is a cocktail of proteins called monoclonal antibodies that latch onto the Ebola virus and neutralize it. The manufacturing process involves infecting tobacco with a genetically engineered virus that contains instructions to make the antibody. Every time the virus tries to replicate, it spins out a copy of a monoclonal antibody. The leaves are ground up to extract the antibody. Learn more in this February 24, 2010 Wall St. Journal piece: Teasing Vaccines from Tobacco.
Texas A&M didn’t get to this point overnight. Since the H1N1 virus peaked in June 2009, it has been focused on a clear vision of enhancing the nation’s capability for domestic pandemic vaccine research, development and manufacturing. For more on Texas A&M’s vision, read this New York Times feature from November 25, 2010: Texas A&M Stakes Claim as Leader in Pharmaceuticals.
Shortly after the H1N1 pandemic, Texas A&M began working with the U.S. Department of Defense to produce an initial ten million doses of vaccine to combat H1N1. In February 2010, it announced its GreenVax initiative, which used tobacco plants to produce vaccines. Most recently, in September 2014, Texas A&M dedicated a Pandemic Influenza Vaccine Facility in Bryan-College Station. The Houston Chronicle reported on this historic event: New A&M facility aimed at threat of flu pandemic.
The production of the ZMapp Ebola vaccine is the university system’s latest advancement in its distinguished record of leadership in the development and production of advanced biologics.