Sunday, September 7, 2014


Did you save your
Stock in evil tobacco?


According to the Times of Israel's Start-Up Israel web site, a Carmiel-based biopharmaceutical firm says it can extract (Ebola) medication from tobacco plants quickly and effectively.

Potalix, an Israeli biopharmaceutical company located outside of the northern city of Carmiel, said Saturday that it has the resources to produce the experimental Ebola vaccine, ZMapp, which has recently run out.

Dr. Yossi Shaaltiel, the executive vice president of research and development, said Protalix is more proficient in the genetic engineering of tobacco plants — from which the ZMapp medication is drawn — than any other plant.

I vividly recall driving into North Carolina from Norfolk VA on my way to Charlotte NC and seeing a large billboard proclaiming that I was entering tobacco country. Not, of course, that Virginia wasn't tobacco country; Virginia just didn't - to the best of my knowledge - put up huge billboards announcing the fact.

I also recall the anti-smoking battles raging then and even now in 2014.

Back in the day, I was glad I didn't (knowingly) own any tobacco stock.

Now I'm not so sure.

If Ebola, the scourge of Africa, can be eliminated or even weakened with a medication derived from tobacco, then perhaps tobacco farmers and the people who bought stocks in tobacco companies may see some financial gains without endangering anyone's health.

Meanwhile, other Israeli researchers are looking at antibodies in the blood of Ebola survivors. The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that Dr. Leslie Lobel and Dr. Victoria Yavelsky have been working for years to track down all survivors of the Ebola and Marburg viruses in Uganda and take blood samples from them. Both of these Equatorial viruses cause hemorrhagic fever and kill close to 90 percent of victims.

The two scientists study the unusually strong immune response of the survivors and then work to isolate monoclonal antibodies that neutralize the virus in their lab at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Center for Emerging Diseases, Tropical Diseases and AIDS.

Yavelsky and Lobel’s monoclonal antibody-based therapeutic approach was proven as a successful potential treatment by their colleagues in the US military, and at several other laboratories.

With funding from the US National Institutes of Health and other resources, their lab is now getting ready to test its human monoclonal antibodies in mice and non-human primates abroad.

Lobel and Yavelsky hope to develop a “passive” vaccine that would provide immediate protection against the virus. An “active” vaccine already formulated by the US military, and successfully tested in monkeys, takes about 30 days to be effective.

Meanwhile, several other experimental vaccines and therapeutic approaches to Ebola and Marburg – mostly in the United States and Canada – are in various stages of study. In Israel, Vecoy Nanomedicines is developing a biomedical technology platform that tricks a virus into “committing suicide,” which could neutralize viral threats like Ebola, hepatitis and HIV. However, Vecoy’s Dr. Eitan Eliram says that Vecoy has not yet found sufficient funding to go forward with its research and development.

The Israelis are working under a government-imposed handicap that prevents any live Ebola into Israel.

It may turn out that tobacco may find a new life saving lives.

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