With an Untested New Drug, Two Ebola Patients Are Experiencing “Miraculous” Recovery

The drug, however, was not “top secret,” as some outlets have reported

Photo: NIAID

Two Americans who contracted Ebola while working to contain the outbreak in West Africa have received an experimental drug, CNN reports. The drug, ZMapp, has never been used on humans before although it showed promise in tests with primates. It works by preventing Ebola from from infecting new cells, CNN explains. 

Kent Brantly, a physician, agreed to take the drug—which was flown into Liberia where he was working—despite potential risks. Brantly's condition had quickly worsened, and due to the imminent threat of death, doctors called upon the Food and Drug Administration's "compassionate use" protocol. In outstanding circumstances, this protocol grants the use of potentially life-saving pharmaceuticals that are still in the investigational phase.

According to CNN, within an hour of taking the medication, Brantly's condition noticeably improved. One doctor reportedly used the word "miraculous" to describe the results. The next day, his condition was stable enough to evacuate him to the U.S. Nancy Writebol, a missionary, also received the medication. Her recovery was "not as remarkable," CNN writes, but her condition did improve and she was able to be evacuated last night. 

Contrary to what CNN first reported, HealthNewsReview points out, the drug was not "top secret"—it was simply under investigation. Much of the information about the use of the drug and the patients' recovery has come via CNN and correspondent Sanjay Gupta. As HealthNewsReview and other have documented, this raises some ethical questions: Gupta is also on staff at Emory's School of Medicine, where the two patients are being treated.

CNN reported that ZMapp "likely saved [Brantly and Writebol's] lives." But as one expert pointed out to HealthNewsReview, it's important to resist the urge to jump to conclusions. “If Dr. Brantly is improving," he told HealthNewsReview, "it’s unclear if that’s from the serum, his own body fighting the infection, or a combination.” 

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