Last month, we told you about our colleague Andy Obermueller's fascinating research into pandemics. We mentioned that while the most recent Ebola outbreak is no cause for major alarm, investors would be wise to learn more about the companies and government agencies working to develop groundbreaking vaccines and drugs to combat the world's next terrifying, unseen threat.
Since first being discovered in 1976, this recent outbreak of Ebola has been the most deadly. According to the World Health Organization, as of Thursday, it has infected 3,685 people in West Africa and killed an astonishing 1,841. This deadly strain of Ebola has a 60 percent fatality rate.
To put that in perspective, the 1918 flu pandemic had a fatality rate between 10-20 percent... and it still killed over 50 million people.
But another reason is because there is hope for a successful treatment...More than a decade ago the U.S. Army began research to develop treatments and vaccines against potential bio-warfare agents, like the Ebola virus. And last year they released findings that resulted in some astounding results.
According to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the treatment for Ebola -- known as MB-003 -- "protected 100 percent of non-human primates when given one hour after Ebola exposure." Within 48 hours of being infected with Ebola the success rate of MB-003 was 66 percent and after 104-120 of exposure the recovery rate was 43 percent.
Larry Zeitlin, Ph.D. and his team at Mapp Biopharmaceutical continued developing MB-003, now called ZMapp, into a potent concoction that has proven successful in fighting the deadly Ebola virus.
ZMapp is derived from the tobacco plant. In short, when a tobacco plant catches "a cold" it produces antibodies to combat it. These antibodies are a key ingredient in the ZMapp cocktail. In order to rapidly produce these antibodies, tobacco genes are fused with a natural tobacco virus. Once the tobacco plants begin to produce these antibodies to combat the virus, the plant is ground up and the antibody is extracted. The whole process takes a matter of weeks.
One problem has been that ZMapp isn't even scheduled for clinical trials until next year... it's only been tested on animals.
However, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can give an emergency application that provides access to unapproved drugs under its Compassionate Aid Clause. (This is something Andy talked about in Game-Changing Stocks back in March.)
And that's exactly what it did for the experimental Ebola cocktail, ZMapp.
So far, the preliminary results have been promising. Here's a clip from a story, about two American doctors who contracted Ebola in Liberia and were treated with ZMapp:
An American doctor who contracted Ebola treating victims of the deadly virus in Liberia has recovered and has been discharged Thursday by the Atlanta hospital that treated him with an experimental drug.
Dr. Kent Brantly of Texas was given ZMapp, a drug used on a handful of patients in the West African outbreak and produced by U.S.-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical. Nancy Writebol, who was secretly discharged Tuesday after recovering from Ebola, also received the drug.
Three African doctors, also treated with ZMapp in Liberia, have shown remarkable signs of improvement, Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown told Reuters on Tuesday.
California-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, which makes the drug, has said its scarce supplies are now exhausted and producing more will take time. It is currently working with Kentucky BioProcessing and the U.S. government to accelerate scaled-up production.
While Brantly and Writebol improved, it's not clear if ZMapp aided his recovery, or if other treatments or his own immune system fought off the virus. Still, the apparent success of the drug has raised hopes it may be able to help fight and end the outbreak.
If ZMapp does prove to be the cure, it could be a real game-changer in the Ebola fight.
One of the first companies that could reap the rewards from this Ebola killer is tobacco company Reynolds American Inc. (NYSE: RAI). Its subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing LLC, is the company that manufactures the treatment for ZMapp from tobacco plants.
While this is a promising development, Andy thinks there are much more lucrative profit opportunities for investors to be had from other companies working diligently to develop treatments from the next deadly threat.
There's much more we can share about Andy's research into pandemics, but we simply don't have time to share everything with you in today's issue. We'll be sure to follow up on this fascinating topic at a later time. Meanwhile, you can access Andy's archives and learn more about his research on pandemics by signing up for Game-Changing Stocks by visiting this link.