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With the recent headlines of the Ebola outbreak in Africa, I got to thinking about what we would do here in the US and North Carolina in particular to stop the spread of this deadly disease even if there is no outbreak on our home turf.

I recently came across an article called, “Ebola outbreak puts spotlight on tobacco-based drug production.” I was intrigued because it mentioned North Carolina. My understanding is that the experimental drug that was used to treat the two Americans had come from a plant-made drug that was produced by infecting tobacco plants with the virus. It brought up that previous funding had come from the government to produce vaccines in our NC vaccine production plant.

Moreover, the company that manufactured the experimental drug, while Kentucky-based, is owned by a North Carolina-based Reynolds American. Of course I’m all about advocating where and how we can help stop the spread of this high mortality rate disease, and there is opportunity to create jobs should the government and other agencies fund our NC vaccine plant to produce said vaccine (should one be possible) from this experimental drug. Right now, that particular facility is mainly based in testing and producing a vaccine for pandemic influenza.

The Ebola domestic spotlight is really on KY, GA, and NC: KY having manufactured the current experimental drug that was used to treat our two infected Americans, GA taking in the infected patients for treatment, and one of those infected having roots in NC as well as mentioning that they worked with Samaritan’s Purse based out of Boone, NC.

While tobacco has an “undesirable” connotation in the PR of today’s anti-smoking advocates (ie. see tobacco-free signs sprouting up around the country), the bad press of this plant could turn around. The tobacco used to produce the experimental drug isn’t an NC strand (in fact it is an Australian strand), but we have the capability for a tremendous manufacturing opportunity and making a positive impact on the world in our tobacco-rooted state. Time will tell, but the potential is there.