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(Bloomberg) -- Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.’s Ebola drug will soon enter human trials in the U.S. and Liberia following successful efforts to boost production capacity, U.S. health officials said.

Early-stage human trials of ZMapp, which may have helped patients such as American aid worker Kent Brantly survive Ebola, will begin within the next three weeks, according to Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority has helped Kentucky BioProcessing LLC, a unit of Reynolds American Inc., to produce enough of the drug for the trials, said BARDA Director Robin Robinson.

ZMapp is currently made using tobacco plants, which can be induced to grow a cocktail of three antibodies. The drug has been used to treat Ebola-infected patients including Brantly; a Spanish priest who died; a British nurse; and three Liberian health workers. Their use so far haven’t told officials whether it’s effective, Fauci said.

“Because the drug was not administered within the context of a clinical trial it is not possible to determine whether ZMapp actually benefited those patients in whom it was used,” Fauci said in a telephone briefing.

Separately, BARDA scoured the globe for biopharmaceutical companies that could develop a “ZMapp-like” drug, Robinson said. Since September, it has been working with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Roche Holding AG’s Genentech unit, which have developed a similar product using Chinese hamster ovary cells. That experimental drug will soon be tested in non- human primates, he said.

“They’ve quickly made a huge amount of progress,” Robinson said.

Mapp, a closely held, San Diego-based company, developed ZMapp with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the U.S. government.

The Ebola outbreak has infected 21,759 people and killed 8,668 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization.

To contact the reporters on this story: Makiko Kitamura in London at mkitamura1@bloomberg.net; Doni Bloomfield in New York at mbloomfiel12@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chitra Somayaji at csomayaji@bloomberg.net James Callan, John Lear

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