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Amgen to join Gates Foundation in effort to produce Ebola drug

Amgen workers will help create antibody production lines in hamster cells for ZMapp, an experimental Ebola treatment whose supply ran out in August.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)
Bloomberg News

Amgen Inc. said it would work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other groups to come up with an alternative production method for ZMapp, the promising experimental drug to treat Ebola whose supply ran out in August.

ZMapp, from Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. in San Diego, is currently made using tobacco plants, which can be induced to grow the three antibodies in the drug. The Gates Foundation is exploring other options amid the worst Ebola outbreak on record, and last week gave Mapp a $150,000 grant to see whether large-scale production is possible with more traditional methods.

Toward the effort, Thousand Oaks-based Amgen will detail 12 to 14 staff members to see whether the drug can be made in Chinese hamster ovary cells, said Kristen Davis, an Amgen spokeswoman. While the technique offers a slower route than plant production, the infrastructure for manufacturing drugs in these cells is well established, which means production can be scaled up rapidly. Among other drugs, the cells are used to produce Amgen’s rheumatoid arthritis treatment Enbrel and anemia therapy Epogen.

“The gravity of the impact of the Ebola outbreak and Amgen’s expertise in developing monoclonal antibodies provide a unique opportunity to assist in the efforts to manage this growing healthcare concern,” Davis said. The Amgen workers will help create antibody production lines in the hamster cells for ZMapp, she said.

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ZMapp was used to treat two infected American health workers who recovered, a Spanish priest who died, and healthcare workers in West Africa. It is difficult to make in large quantities because it uses a relatively high dose of three different antibodies.


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