The production platform for this allegedly mysterious Ebola drug has been developed at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, well known as BOKU, in Vienna. The enduring enthusiams of Herta Steinkellner (Department für Angewandte Genetik und Zellbiologie (http://www.dagz.boku.ac.at/arbeitsgruppen/ag-steinkellner/), for plant-made biopharmaceuticals, led her to breed a genetically modified tobacco line suitable for the production of antibodies with high efficacy as published in 2008 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18346095). Valuable support regarding protein glycosylation came from two other BOKU researchers, Friedrich Altmann und Richard Strasser.
Since then, an extensive collaboration has existed with the USA based company Mapp Biopharmaceuticals Inc., cuIminating in the plant-based production of three highly efficient antibodies against the Ebola virus. The results were published in 2011 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22143789). Produced now in green-houses in the USA, this antibody cocktail, now known as “ZMapp“ has been reached phase I clinical status. It is the mysterious drug recently administered to two Ebola infected US citizens in West Africa.
The anti-Ebola antibodies produced in the “Vienna” tobacco may well denote the coming off age of plants as a production system for highly efficient yet affordable biopharmaceuticals.