Antibodies against deadly emerging disease mers discovered

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have identified natural human antibodies against the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a step toward developing treatments for the newly emerging and often-fatal disease.

Currently there is no vaccine or antiviral treatment for MERS, a severe respiratory disease with a mortality rate of more than 40 percent that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

In laboratory studies reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers found that these “neutralizing” antibodies prevented a key part of the virus, known as MERS CoV, from attaching to protein receptors that allow the virus to infect human cells. The research was led by Wayne Marasco, MD, an infectious disease expert at Dana-Farber.

Further experiments are underway that could lead to development of antibody preventives and treatments for MERS, according to the scientists. Investigators from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are co-authors of the report.

“This panel of neutralizing antibodies offers the possibility of developing human monoclonal antibody-based immunotherapy, especially for health care workers,” noted the authors.

Symptoms of MERS infection include cough, fever and shortness of breath, and can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure. The World Health Organization has recorded more than 250 cases and at least 93 deaths, mainly in countries of the Arabian Peninsula. A number of cases and deaths have been in health care workers and hospital patients.

On April 21 Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah fired the country’s health minister amid a surge in new MERS infections — 49 in a single week. Reports of MERS in Greece, England, France, Italy, Malaysia and other countries have raised concerns about potential global spread of the disease by infected airline passengers. The MERS virus has been found in camels and bats but scientists don’t yet know precisely how it is transmitted to people.

The virus is similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus, SARS CoV, that caused hundreds of deaths in China in 2002 and 2003. SARS was less lethal, having a death rate of about 10 percent.

FOLLOW THE ORIGINAL SCIENCEDAILY ARTICLE HERE.

FOLLOW THE PNAS JOURNAL ARTICLE ABSTRACT HERE.

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