MERS vaccine could be on the horizon

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A vaccine for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus could be on the horizon with scientists revealing that a vaccine developed using synthetic DNA successfully induced protective immunity in animals against the virus.

Researchers from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania carried out experiments to test the efficacy of the novel vaccine by administering it to rhesus macaques six weeks before exposure to the MERS virus. Researchers revealed that the vaccine fully protected rhesus macaques from disease.

Further, the scientists also said that the vaccine generated potentially protective antibodies in blood drawn from camels which are believed to be the purported source of MERS transmission in the Middle East.

MERS is caused by an emerging human coronavirus, which is distinct from the SARS coronavirus. Since its identification in 2012, MERS has been linked to over 1,300 infections and close to 400 deaths. It has occurred in the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, and in the U.S.

Researchers say that their vaccine offered protection against MERS disease in the monkeys and offered benefit to 100 percent of the animals in this study in terms of minimizing symptoms. In addition, because the vaccine was also shown to develop antibodies in camel’s blood, researchers say that the vaccine could be deployed to break this link in the MERS transmission cycle.

The vaccine also has the potential of decreasing person-to-person spread of infection in the event of an outbreak and help to protect health care workers or exposed individuals.

“This simple synthetic vaccine has the potential to overcome important production and deployment limitations, and what’s more, the vaccine is non-live, so does not pose a risk of spreading to unintended individuals”, said first author Karuppiah Muthumani, PhD, a research assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

The increase in number of MERS cases around the world specifically the recent 2015 outbreak in South Korea have raised huge concerns owing to the lack of effective antiviral therapies or vaccines and because of this developing of a vaccine is on a high priority.

The study has been published in Science Translational Medicine (STM).