Fox News analyst Peter Johnson Jr. suggested that the government was at fault for the shortage of ZMapp, an experimental Ebola treatment yet to be approved for widespread public use, and slammed the first U.S. diagnosis of an Ebola patient as a “poor example of federal government intervention.” But in truth, the government has “set records” in approving drugs to address Ebola outbreaks and has provided crucial funding for research and development.
On the October 7 edition of Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocy and Johnson discussed why there is a current shortage of ZMapp, suggesting that a reliance on federal grants by the pharmaceutical company who produced the medication may be to blame for the shortage. Johnson faulted the Centers for Disease Control and Preventation (CDC) for not having the capacity to produce more of the drug and slammed the fact that ZMAPP has been “supported by federal grants only.” He went on to suggest that if the government is “not doing the job they should be doing,” perhaps they should be “stepping out of the way and let private industry do it”:
But Johnson ignored the fact that the federal government has greatly sped up the drug approval process in order to address the public health threat posed by Ebola. According to an October 6 article from The Hill, the FDA recently approved the use of two experimental drugs that treat Ebola -- an act that “set agency records” for a process that “typically takes years.”
The reason ZMapp shortages have occurred is not due to government failure, as suggested by the Fox figures. As ZMapp manufacturer Mapp Biopharmaceautical noted, the drug's production has been slow because “Ebola is a relatively recently discovered disease with sporadic outbreaks,” and “most new drugs take a decade or more of development work prior to commercialization.”
Long production times are also at fault for the shortage of ZMapp. An October 5 article from CBS News explained that the drug is made from a special “biologically-engineered tobacco” that takes some time to grow:
Making more ZMapp takes a long time because the drug is made from a certain type of biologically-engineered tobacco that's currently being grown at Kentucky BioProcessing, in Owensboro, Kentucky. “It takes time for tobacco to grow; it's a certain kind of tobacco,” said Turner. “It's very special, and has been carefully developed to produce authentic human proteins faithfully.” He declined to estimate how much longer it would take, or how big the supply would be. Turner added that his team is currently reviewing other ways they could feasibly produce the drug at a faster rate.