Charles J. Arntzen
Presidential Chair - Florence Ely Nelson
Arizona State University
Presidential Chair - Florence Ely Nelson Arizona State University USA
A professor at Arizona State University, Arntzen is considered the godfather of a growing field of research sometimes called "pharming": engineering plants to produce specialized vaccines and other drugs. ZMapp, an injectable synthetic serum he helped devise using genetically engineered antibodies grown in tobacco plants, is currently the most promising drug treatment for people infected with Ebola. ZMapp still wasn’t approved for human use when it was given to two American health care workers who had been infected in Liberia last year, and Arntzen didn’t even find out about the real-life trial until after the fact. But by the time he got the news, the patients were showing rapid improvement, "which was very exciting," he says. Both recovered. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pledged up to $42 million in funding to speed the development of more serum. By February, there was enough supplies to begin clinical trials in Liberia and the U.S. Although the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has slowed, the threat of recurrence is real—and the risk of similar epidemics may be increasing. Pharming, which is now getting support from Big Pharma, could be the key to responding to future threats, providing a large supply of drugs or vaccines at epidemic speed.