ASU's Arntzen on Ebola outbreak: Promising drugs lead the charge on a devastating disease

May 17, 2017

A new Ebola outbreak in remote areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has some public health officials on guard for larger outbreaks to come, but Arizona State University’s Charles Arntzen, who played a crucial role in development of the Ebola therapeutic drug called ZMapp, says the current outbreak is small and there are a number of fledgling drugs that can be used to fight it and vaccinate the people in surrounding areas.

Here he talks more about the situation surrounding the current outbreak.  Arntzen The Biodesign Institute's Charles Arntzen, who played a crucial role in development of the Ebola therapeutic drug called ZMapp, says there are a number of fledgling drugs that can be used to fight the current outbreak of Ebola and to vaccinate the people in surrounding areas. Photo by Michelle Saldana/Biodesign Institute Download Full Image

Question: What do you know about the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Answer: The strain in the outbreak is the Zaire strain. ZMapp was developed to fight the Zaire strain, so ZMapp is very likely to be effective in fighting the Ebola strain in the DRC. The second thing is that there is a supply of ZMapp. Beginning in August 2016, DARPA put a significant amount of money into Mapp Pharmaceuticals and its companion company, LeafBio. They are jointly producing a stockpile of the therapeutic drug. To my knowledge, they have not yet been requested for their supply, but it is very likely to be enough to handle the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Q: Are therapeutics like ZMapp developed to the point where they can be successful in fighting the disease?

A: Certainly on the technical side and the delivery system used. What was not known at the time of the last outbreak and when the clinical trials were conducted is how do you figure out the appropriate dosage. Studies on non-human primates were done with a single dose of therapeutic and it was a high dose. This was followed in the treatments in 2014. If this were done in an advanced fully equipped hospital, there would be a blood draw to determine the load of circulating virus in the blood stream and then determine optimal dosage and then treatment would be provided.

Q: What about vaccines?

A: The most advanced one seems to be from Merck. It uses a viral delivery system in a very well established viral vector. What they have shown from early studies is the correlates of protection are strongly correlated with antibody titer that the vaccine induces. That fits very nicely because ZMapp is an antibody cocktail. The fact that it is protective would suggest that if you can use a vaccine to get a good antibody boost in uninfected people, and then you could use an antibody based therapeutic (like ZMapp) for people with the disease. 

Q: Are we ready for another Ebola outbreak?

A: We are sure a lot better off than we were in 2014. Much, much better. The technical response to a major infective disease outbreak that has happened in the last 2.5 to 3 years has been incredible. I think the real gain is from all of the money that was invested early on — our work dates back to 2002 — and it take a long time to build up the core competency that is necessary in drug development. This has happened both for vaccines and therapeutics in academia and in industry. Give credit to funding agencies like DARPA and NIH for giving us the tools that we need.

Q: What do we need scientifically to make our response better?

A: There are a number of unknowns out there. There are questions of persistence of Ebola in individuals who have recovered from infection. Does the disease persist? Does it mutate? Also, we don’t know enough about the comparative protection of our vaccine candidates and therapeutics against other strains of Ebola, like the Sudan strain. The testing is on going, but it is an orphan disease and certainly doesn’t get the funding it would if it were a more major disease of the developed world.

Associate Director, Media Relations & Strategic Communications


ASU students win championships in Chinese Bridge Competition

May 17, 2017

Arizona State University students Samantha Sanders and Ryan Featherston are championship winners in the 16th Annual Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition held April 29 at the University of Arizona.

The preliminary contest in the southwest region for the competition for foreign college students was organized by the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles in cooperation with the Confucius Institute at Arizona State University. Education Councillor Yuan Dong and Education Consul Chai Haiying were the honored guests in attendance.   Samantha Sanders and Ryan Featherston Download Full Image

Sanders and Featherston won the championships in the intermediate and advanced level competitions, respectively, through their enthusiasm and passion for learning Chinese language and culture. Featherston will represent the southwest region of the United States and advance to the international level of the Chinese Bridge Competition hosted in China by the Confucius Institute headquarters this July.

College students from the southwest region, which includes Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Southern California, are representatives of the Confucius Institute to participate in the competition. Each year, participants’ Chinese proficiency are assessed through three rounds of competition. In the first round, participants present a three-minute speech in Chinese relating to the theme of “Dreams Enlighten the Future,” followed by impromptu questions about the content of their speeches from the judges. During the second round, contestants are quizzed on Chinese culture, geography, and history. In the final round, a Chinese cultural talent show allow participants to prepare a live performance showcasing their talents through music, calligraphy, painting, dance, or martial arts.

Featherston impressed the judges with his fluency and dream of becoming a cross-cultural ambassador. He is currently in the ASU Chinese Language Flagship Program in School of International Letters and Cultures and majoring in economics. In his speech, Featherston described his experience living and studying in China after high school graduation. He started his journey to learn Chinese by living with a host family in Beijing, tasting Chinese foods, meeting Chinese friends and familiarizing himself with the Chinese customs, philosophies and values.

He recognized the cultural differences between China and the U.S. during the birthday celebration of his “younger brother” in China. He was surprised to witness the birthday boy present slices of cake to the elders and guests first while serving himself last. In the United States, the birthday person is always the center of attention and usually the first person to get a slice of cake. This experience enlightened his interest and enthusiasm in cross-cultural awareness and communication. Featherston believes misunderstandings happen, but everyone can learn from misunderstandings and modify their behavior to show respect to each other. His career goal is to become a cross-cultural ambassador or business envoy between China and U.S. 

In his talent show performance, Featherston demonstrated his talents in singing, poem recitation, and playing the flute. He sang a Chinese song titled “Wishing We Last Forever” and then recited “Water Melody: When Did the Bright Moon First Appear?” He finished the song with a flute performance.

Sanders is also a student in the ASU Chinese Language Flagship Program in the School of International Letters and Cultures. After her second year of Chinese study at ASU, she was awarded a Flagship scholarship to study abroad program in Taiwan for two months. Since then, she has visited Beijing and Shanghai as well and collected rich memories and experiences from all of her travels. She loved the historical and cultural sites in Beijing and was impressed by the modernization in Shanghai, and has not forgotte the delicious food from Taiwanese night markets.  

In her speech, she discussed her dream to start a nonprofit organization to protect the environment. This inspiration came from her observation of how almost all Chinese people use eco bags and take public transportation. Sanders reinforced the idea of how there is only one earth in the universe, therefore, it is humans’ responsibility to protect earth so the next generation can have a wonderful future. For her talent show performance, she further impressed the judges and audience by singing a Chinese song, “A Merrily Loving Song.”

Featherston is the third ASU student to place first in the advanced level of the Chinese Bridge Competition in the SW region. Jonny Dangerfield, an ASU Flagship alumnus, and Ryan McCloskey, an ASU computer science major with a minor in Chinese, were both first place winners in 2013 and 2015.

Murphy Raine McGary

Communications specialist, School of International Letters and Cultures