Promising results from prototype MERS vaccine

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A prototype vaccine against the lung infection Mers coronavirus has shown promising results, scientists say. BBC News reports that the study suggests the vaccine guards against the disease in monkeys and camels. Researchers hope with more work it could be turned into a jab for humans.

Mers has infected 1,400 people and claimed 500 lives since 2012. But no specific treatment or preventative medicines exist. In the majority of cases, individuals are thought to have caught Mers (Middle-East respiratory syndrome) through close contact with infected patients in hospital. But experts suspect camels also play an important role – acting as a host for the disease.

The researchers, led by University of Pennsylvania, say their experimental vaccine could be a “valuable tool” in two different ways – first, to immunise camels to stop it spreading to human populations and, secondly, as a jab to protect individuals at risk of getting Mers.

In the trial, the vaccine was tested on blood samples taken from camels and appeared to kick-start the production of antibody proteins that may help mount a defence against the virus. And when it was given to macaque monkeys later exposed to Mers, the animals did not become ill.

The report says Professor Andrew Easton, from Warwick University, described the research as a “significant step forward in the generation of a vaccine to prevent Mers disease”. He added: “The data show that the vaccine is capable of generating protective antibodies in laboratory studies and also in camels. “This is very promising as a possible way to reduce virus spread in camels and therefore to reduce the risk of infection in humans.”

Abstract: Emerging vaccines
Public outcry drives vaccine research during outbreaks of emerging infectious disease, but public support for vaccine development dries up when the outbreaks are resolved, frequently leaving promising vaccine candidates sitting on the shelf. DNA vaccines, with their potential for rapid large-scale production, may help overcome this hurdle. Muthumaniet al. report the development of a synthetic DNA vaccine against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that induces neutralizing antibodies in mice, macaques, and camels—natural hosts of MERS-CoV. Indeed, macaques vaccinated with this DNA vaccine were protected from viral challenge. These promising results support further development of DNA vaccines for emerging infections.

Full BBC News report
Science Translational Medicine abstract

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