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Team Including San Diego Researchers Develops Steps Toward Ebola Vaccine

Health workers in LIberia are trained by Project Concern International staff on how to treat infectious diseases, Jan. 2015.
Project Concern International
Health workers in LIberia are trained by Project Concern International staff on how to treat infectious diseases, Jan. 2015.

Blood from a survivor of the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola virus has yielded antibodies that could be used to fight the often-deadly disease, a team that includes scientists from The Scripps Research Institute announced Thursday.

The finding could guide the development of a vaccine or drug therapy against Ebola, according to Scripps. The study, published in Thursday's edition of the journal "Science," also revealed a previously unknown vulnerability in the virus' structure.


"Our 'Science' paper describes the first in-depth view into the human antibody response to Ebola virus," said team leader Laura Walker, senior scientist at Adimab LLC, and an alumna of Scripps' doctorate program.

Walker's study found more than 300 antibodies that reacted with Ebola's surface glycoprotein — the viral structure that fuses with host cells. The scientists said 77 percent of the antibodies showed potential to neutralize the Ebola virus, and several of them demonstrated significant protection against the virus in mouse models.

Scripps said the researchers potentially could quickly use the antibodies to design a treatment. With the new antibodies available, researchers might also be able to design secondary treatments in case the Ebola virus mutates.

The scientists also reported finding a previously unknown weakness in Ebola — an area that remains the same even when the virus mutates rapidly. According to Scripps, treatments targeting that spot would be effective against different strains of the disease.

The researchers said they believe the techniques in the study could be used to find treatments for other emerging diseases, such as Zika virus.


"With other outbreaks, we could take blood samples from the first wave of survivors and potentially produce a therapeutic rapidly," said Zachary Bornholdt, associate director of antibody discovery at Mapp Biopharmaceutical in San Diego. "That's the longterm goal."

Scientists with MassBiologics of Mattapan, Massachusetts, and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases of Frederick, Maryland, also participated in the study. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and CHAVI-ID, an HIV/AIDS research project that includes Scripps.