The Kentucky BioProcessing plant in Owensboro's MidAmerica Airpark has worked on vaccines for HIV, AIDS, rabies, various cancers and even parvovirus, an often fatal disease in cats and dogs.
And now, it's working on a vaccine for Ebola, a somewhat exotic and often fatal disease usually found in Africa.
"There are a couple of outbreaks in Africa this year, but they are fairly isolated," Hugh Haydon, KBP chairman, said Monday. "The concern is that it's such a virulent and lethal virus and international travel is so fast that it could spread around the world quickly. There's also a concern that it could be weaponized.
"The possibility of Ebola being used for bioterrorism is one of the reasons the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases is conducting the study with KBP.A news release from the institute says that a "study by a consortium of scientists has shown promising results" in preventing "nonhuman primates infected with the deadly virus from developing symptoms of the disease.
"The tests were conducted at a secure facility in Maryland on rhesus macaques monkeys that received doses of the vaccines 48 hours after they were exposed to the Ebola virus.The news release says that four of the six monkeys — 67 percent — survived after receiving the three-antibody "cocktail." Normally, the institute said, the death rate, among humans at least, is 90 percent of those exposed to the virus.
The cocktail, Haydon said, is "designed to neutralize the virus."
The monkeys were used in the test, he said, because "this is as close to humans as we can get."
The next step, Haydon said, is to do "additional studies (administering the cocktail) at different times after exposure and in different doses. We have to determine the proper mixture."
Once that is determined, he said, the tests should move onto clinical trials in humans.
"We won't use it with people exposed to the Ebola virus," Haydon said. "We'll just test to see if it's safe in humans."
If all the tests are successful, he said, the hope is that the government will move into producing and stockpiling the drug to be used in case of an Ebola outbreak.
"That would be a significant-sized market," Haydon said. "The potential could be fairly significant."
The institute's news release says KBP's "plant-based system offers the potential for production of the antibody cocktail to be more cost effective because it can be readily scaled up — or down — to meet demand."
Barry Bratcher, chief operating officer at KBP and co-author on the study, said KBP is capable of generating a batch of the antibodies within two weeks to "rapidly address new threats and new outbreaks."
"One of the advantages is this study further validates our product," Haydon said. "It's a big, big deal. The study compared our plant-based product with a more traditional product, and our plant-based product was considerably more effective."
What KBP does, put simply, is insert certain genes into tobaccolike plants to make proteins that are then used as pharmaceutical products such as vaccines.
If the government decides to produce and stockpile the Ebola vaccine, it could be in production within two or three years, Haydon said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this month that there had been 31 confirmed cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo this year. Ten of them were fatal, it said.
Earlier this summer, the CDC said, 24 cases were reported in Uganda — 17 of them fatal.
Time magazine reported in August that about 1,850 people have been diagnosed with the virus since it was first identified 36 years ago.
Ebola can cause severe fever, muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea and unstoppable bleeding, the story said.