Ebola puts focus on drugs made in tobacco plants

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Drug makers and academic laboratories going beyond standard techniques in the push to develop a treatment for the Ebola virus that's killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa.

Researchers working on the experimental drug ZMapp have been using tobacco plants to produce proteins designed to deactivate the virus and kill cells infected with Ebola.

Using plants as pharmaceutical factories has been studied for about 20 years, but hasn't caught on widely. Still, researchers are now using the approach not only for Ebola but to develop medicines and vaccines against targets such as HIV, cancer, norovirus and the deadly Marburg virus, which is related to Ebola.

Most of the work in this area uses a tobacco plant, but researchers note it's just a relative of the plant used to make cigarettes. Scientists say tobacco plants work well because they grow quickly and their biology is well understood.

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