A Scripps Research Institute scientist who is a central figure in studying the Ebola virus described it Wednesday as the “worst virus we know.”
“It is so lethal because it replicates so rapidly,” said Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire. “It infects nearly every cell type a human has.”
Saphire said her lab is working to identify as many antibodies as possible in the fight against Ebola.
“Every Ebola lab in the world…is sending all of their antibodies to Scripps,” she said.
Whaley, whose company developed the ZMapp drug that was successful in saving the lives of two Americans, credited Saphire with identifying many of the antibodies used in the drug.
“Although Mapp has gotten a lot of credit for ZMapp, we have been part of a large consortium…We don’t do it on our own,” Whaley said.
He said his company is “working very aggressively” with new federal funding to step up production, but declined to give a timeline.
O’Donnell described the impact on Liberia, a poor African country, as dire, with ripple impacts on medical care, the economy and the food supply.
“It’s a crisis. It’s a dire crisis. People are running scared and rightfully so. It’s now the ripple effects…I think it’s fair to say that certain systems are crumbling,” he said.
His organization has staff on the ground in Liberia managing programs to prevent disease, improve community health and promote sustainable development.
All of the panelists expressed concern about the virus traveling to other locations. “What viruses do best is travel,” Saphire noted, adding that HIV once infected just three people in Africa.
The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world’s largest biomedical research centers. The institute employs some 3,000 people on its campuses in La Jolla and Jupiter, FL, including three Nobel laureates.
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