Quebec biotech Medicago to make ZMapp for U.S. government research project

TORONTO — A Quebec City biotech company has been awarded a contract to make a ZMapp-like product to fight Ebola.

The U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority issued a contract to make monoclonal Ebola antibodies to Medicago.

The company produces drugs and vaccines in tobacco plants.

ZMapp is made of three Ebola antibodies, two of which were produced at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

The product is being developed by a California-based company called Leaf Bio.

Medicago CEO Andy Sheldon says his company will produce the same cocktail of antibodies using its own proprietary growth and extraction processes.

Sheldon says the company believes its facility can produce more ZMapp more quickly than the current production approach.

He says the goal of the contract is to see whether the antibody cocktail his company generates is as effective as ZMapp.

The U.S. agency, known as BARDA, also issued a similar contract to Fraunhofer, a German non-profit research and development organization.

High hopes ride on ZMapp, which has been given to a number of people who were infected with Ebola in the ongoing West African outbreak. Most survived and some showed a remarkable recovery after receiving the treatment.

But fewer than a dozen treatment courses existed when ZMapp was first used last summer on American Dr. Kent Brantly, a missionary infected while treating Ebola patients in Liberia.

Making the antibody cocktail is not a swift process, and the capacity of the current production operation is limited. BARDA has been looking for some time for ways to increase output of ZMapp.

A clinical trial of ZMapp is currently underway in Liberia.

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