BOZEMAN – A Montana State University center specializing in transferring U.S. military technology to the private sector played a key role in an experimental treatment that may have saved the lives of two American medical missionaries infected with Ebola and might hold hope for thousands more.
Physician Kent Brantly and aid worker Nancy Writebol were both treated in July with ZMapp, an experimental drug that had its origins in the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and was then shepherded into the private sector thanks to MSU’s TechLink and the Army technology transfer office.
More than 2,600 people have died from Ebola in western Africa in recent months. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a worst-case scenario could have 1.4 million people infected by late January.
The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases developed one of the key components of ZMapp as part of its mission to protect American soldiers and public health against potential bio-warfare agents and diseases, said Laurel Halfpap, a TechLink senior technology manager.
Five years ago, Halfpap facilitated a license agreement between the Army and San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical. The company combined an Army-developed antibody with two other antibodies to create ZMapp, which was administered to Brantly and Writebol in July. Both have fully recovered.
“Like many inventions that start with a military purpose, there can be profound dividends on the homefront,” Halfpap said.
Should ZMapp receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the Ebola-fighting product could be added to the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, a repository of vaccines and therapeutics available in the case of a national emergency involving bioterrorism or a natural epidemic.
Will Swearingen, TechLink’s executive director, credits the work of Halfpap in helping to broker the deal with Mapp Biopharmaceutical.
“TechLink functions as a national partnership intermediary for the Department of Defense,” Swearingen said. “DOD, like all federal agencies, operates under a congressional mandate to transfer its taxpayer-funded inventions to the private sector in order to stimulate the U.S. economy, create jobs, increase our technological competitiveness globally and benefit the public.”
With approximately 60 labs, the DOD generates around 550 patents annually, with inventions in virtually all technology fields, including medical technology, advanced materials, software, electronics and communications. Each year, Bozeman-based TechLink transfers 50-100 DOD inventions to private industry, Swearingen said.
TechLink is the only organization that reviews all of the patented inventions coming out of the entire DOD laboratory system, according to Swearingen.
“The DOD trusts us to select the inventions that we believe would be of greatest interest and then actively market them to companies nationwide,” Swearingen said.
According to an economic impact study DOD commissioned in 2012, TechLink’s licensing and other technology transfer agreements had -- over 10 years -- generated more than $1 billion in sales of new products and services nationwide. Factoring direct and spinoff benefits, these agreements generated $3 billion in economic output and created or retained nearly 18,000 high-wage jobs in the U.S.
To learn more about ZMapp, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web page on the drug at: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/guinea/qa-experimental-treatments.html.
Contact: Will Swearingen, executive director, TechLink, (406) 994-7704 or firstname.lastname@example.org