LONDON — A British nurse became the first in the world to take an experimental drug from China which helped her recover from the deadly virus Ebola.
Corporal Anna Cross, a medical reservist in the British Army, had been infected with Ebola in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, where a detachment of several hundred British military personnel are deployed to help tackle Ebola.
Cross, aged 25, was treated in a specialist high-level isolation unit (HLIU) at the Royal Free Hospital in London where she was admitted on March 12.
Doctors used the new drug MIL-77 to treat her, after which she was released on March 27.
Dr Mike Jacobs, an infectious diseases consultant who treated Cross, told journalists: “She had completely recovered from Ebola, she is now free of the virus. Cross is the first patient in the world to have received a new special treatment for Ebola, MIL-77. The treatment went very well, it caused no side effects that we could elicit.”
“Cross having recovered doesn’t tell us [MIL-77] works because, in one patient, we just can’t draw that conclusion. We wouldn’t have used the medicine unless it was hopefully going to be of benefit to her,” he added.
Prof. Jonathan Ball, an expert in molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in England, told Xinhua on March 31 that MIL-77 is very much like ZMapp, a drug previously used to treat several patients infected with Ebola.
“This particular cocktail is relatively new. We have been aware of the antibodies, which can kill the virus, previously,” said Ball.
The fact that it had been produced in China reflected the manufacturing capacities of the Chinese bio-manufacturing business, and also its relatively lower costs.
Ball added: “We know that there is expanding bio-manufacturing capability and capacity in China and also the costs there are much cheaper than the rest of the world. Many of us are looking that way to do bio-manufacturing.”
Ball said the process to produce MIL-77 was difficult: “Antibodies are reasonably difficult to make. You have to grow cells, you have to feed those cells, they then start to produce the antibody for you, you then have to harvest that antibody, purify it, bottle it and then it is ready.”
“That whole process is relatively inefficient. There are ways to make it more efficient, so it is getting better and cheaper. It is not trivial like making a chemical drug,” said Ball.
He said that MIL-77 had been used on this occasion but it was too early to tell if it had worked.
“We don’t know if it works. That’s why we need clinical trials. Until now the outbreaks have been very limited. We weren’t really ready to test these therapies and vaccines. When we realized how serious the West African outbreak was there was a scramble to make the drugs available,” he said.