News / Health

Could Existing Drugs Be Used to Treat Deadly MERS Virus?

Can Existing Drugs Help Fight Deadly MERS Virus?i
X
Steve Baragona
May 07, 2014 12:49 PM
A deadly new illness has appeared in the Middle East, and doctors have no medicine to stop it. So far, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome does not spread easily from person to person. But it has killed roughly a quarter of those infected, and experts are watching it closely in case it becomes more contagious. In the scramble to find a cure, scientists are turning up some unexpected candidates. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
A lethal new virus that originated in the Middle East is spreading and there is no drug to fight it.

Or is there? Scientists are scouring the medicine cabinet for existing drugs to fight Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and they're finding some unexpected candidates. 

In lab studies, drugs against cancer, neurological disorders and other ailments show promise to help treat MERS. 

Why would a cancer drug stop a virus? Scientists don’t necessarily know. But the fact that they work at all is helping researchers understand previously unknown ways in which the drugs -- and the viruses -- function.

'Extraordinary' virus

MERS has killed about a quarter of the roughly 500 people infected since it was first detected in 2012. 

“The mortality rate is extraordinary,” said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci. “That’s unheard of with common respiratory infections. That’s the very, very sobering news about this. The somewhat encouraging news so far is that it is not readily spread from person to person.”
Passengers walk past the medical quarantine area showing information sheets on Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) at the arrivals section of Manila's International Airport in Paranaque, south of Manila, April 16, 2014.Passengers walk past the medical quarantine area showing information sheets on Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) at the arrivals section of Manila's International Airport in Paranaque, south of Manila, April 16, 2014.
The virus that causes MERS is related to the SARS virus that erupted out of China in 2003. SARS killed about 10 percent of its approximately 8,000 victims but it was much more contagious than MERS is. Experts are keeping a close eye on MERS in case it mutates to become more infectious. 

Long wait for new drugs

Doctors have little to offer MERS patients. There are no drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

And developing a new drug is time-consuming and expensive. Virologist Matt Frieman at the University of Maryland at Baltimore says candidates that work well in a test tube often do not work in living cells. 

“And the ones that do, when you now take them from a cell to an animal model of the disease, most of them don’t work,” he said. 

Drugs that are effective in animal tests still need to go through three stages of clinical trials to be sure they help sick people without doing more harm than good.

“Starting from scratch, to go from basic research in an academic lab to getting a product licensed by the FDA, can take a decade and tons and tons of money,” said immunologist Erik Stemmy, who oversees MERS research grants for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Robot testing

That’s why NIAID is backing efforts to look for drugs that are already FDA-approved for something else that might also work against MERS.

Robots are lending a hand. Automated systems developed in just the last few years can screen hundreds of drugs at a time.

“You can do a lot of quick, test-tube, petri-dish screens to see if, hey, does this have any efficacy or not,” Stemmy said. “That’s what’s really moving this field forward.”

Stemmy added that researchers are using the same techniques to hunt for existing drugs that fight antibiotic-resistant germs, another growing public health problem with little or nothing new in the drug-development pipeline.

The robots have turned up about two dozen drugs that Frieman is putting through further tests. 

“Most of them have not been used against viruses at all,” he said.
 


It is not always clear how these drugs work, even for their intended purpose. Frieman says only recently did scientists begin designing medicines against specific parts of a cell’s machinery. Many started out as plant extracts or other compounds that treated a disease, even though doctors did not know why or how. 

“A lot of these drugs do things that either were not known before,” he said, “or they target the things that everyone thought they targeted, but no one knew that that was involved in virus replication.”

When a virus infects a cell, it hijacks the cell’s machinery to replicate, or make copies of itself. In pictures from one experiment, Frieman points out how one type of cellular protein important in infection is normally scattered around the cell, but moves to the center of the cell when treated with one drug.

“We don’t know why they do this with the drug. But we know that the drug that does this inhibits replication of the virus.”

'Promising candidates'

These drugs still need to be tested to see if they work as well in animals as they do in a petri dish. Only then would they be considered for sick patients.

But the fact that they are already FDA-approved is one less hurdle they need to clear.

“I think that we have some definite promising therapeutic candidates in the pipeline,” Stemmy said. “And I think that if things progress with the infections and the spread, I think we’re in a really good position to be able to respond.”

And what they are learning from MERS may put scientists in a good position to respond to other new viruses.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: rand moore from: SZ, China
May 07, 2014 6:43 PM
Since MERS is said to be related to SARS, maybe researchers should review what Hong Kong (and other SARs researchers) did to fight that disease, including what medicines they tried. There's a chance that what was effective in treating SARs patients could be effective against MERS.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid