Shares of Israeli biotech firm Protalix reversed gains on Sunday after the company’s chief executive threw cold water on a news report that its technology could be used to develop a version of the Ebola experimental drug ZMapp.
Protalix stock had jumped as much as 18 percent after Channel 2 television reported on Saturday that the company’s facility in northern Israel was one of the only places in the world with the technology to mass-produce a medicine like ZMapp, which uses antibodies from tobacco plants and has shown promising results in trials.
But its CEO told Reuters on Sunday that while future collaboration with ZMapp manufacture Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc was possible, it was still purely theoretical.
The shares closed just 0.3 percent higher. The stock has fallen nearly 60 percent since the start of 2013.
In the Channel 2 report, the head scientist at Protalix said the company, which produces biological drugs in plant cells and already has a Federal Drug Administration-approved drug to treat Gaucher disease, could produce large amounts of the Ebola drug for San Diego, Calif.-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical in a relatively short time.
But Protalix CEO David Aviezer told Reuters that it was too soon to talk about a collaboration.
“In theory, we probably could also produce the antibody used for treating Ebola in our plant cell system,” he said. “Based on our technology and their technology we believe this can be done.”
But “we have to receive the DNA sequence of the antibody, which is a proprietary asset. It does not belong to us.”
Two American aid workers who contracted Ebola in Liberia recovered after receiving ZMapp, though their physicians are not sure if the drug helped. A Liberian doctor with the disease died despite being given the drug, as did a Spanish priest.
Scientists reported last month that, in a trial, all 18 of a group of lab monkeys infected with the deadly virus recovered after being treated with ZMapp.
According to the World Health Organization, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 2,000 people and infected more than 4,000 since the outbreak began in Guinea in March. The virus kills about half of those who contract it.