China, US lead MERS fight

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

against the out­break of se­vere acute res­pi­ra­tory syn­drome, or SARS, in China in 2003, called for a clin­i­cal trial for the an­ti­body as soon as pos­si­ble.

Jiang said: “It will cost mil­lions of dol­lars and take years to com­plete the clin­i­cal tri­als. We hope the gov­ern­ment can speed up ap­proval for this ... and pro­vide the fund­ing to­gether with phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies.”

MERS first emerged in hu­mans in the Mid­dle East three years ago, but the deadly in­fec­tious dis­ease had not at­tracted much in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion un­til it was brought into South Korea and spread quickly. As of Tues­day, it had killed 19 peo­ple there and put 154 oth­ers in hos­pi­tals.

But Ge­orge Gao, an aca­demic, said peo­ple needn’t panic be­cause no big vari­a­tions have been de­tected in the virus and sci­en­tists have an­ti­bod­ies stored for emer­gency use.

Gao is lead­ing a re­search team at the In­sti­tute of Mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy un­der the Chi­nese Academy of Sciences to de­velop an an­ti­body tar­get­ing the MERS virus.

“Although a fourth-gen­er­a­tion pa­tient has emerged in South Korea, all MERS pa­tients were in­fected within hos­pi­tals, ex­cept the first pa­tient. Hu­man-to-hu­man trans­mis­sion of the virus is still lim­ited,” Gao said.

“Sci­en­tists have never stopped the re­search and de­vel­op­ment of medicines tar­get­ing the MERS virus. We have an­ti­bod­ies stored, and if the sit­u­a­tion wors­ens dras­ti­cally we can fin­ish the clin­i­cal trial in sev­eral months and ap­ply the an­ti­body to treat­ment, with sup­port from the gov­ern­ment and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies.”

The MERS an­ti­body be­ing de­vel­oped by Gao’s team has com­pleted a lab­o­ra­tory test and has proved ef­fec­tive on mice.

It is ex­pected to un­dergo a clin­i­cal trial by the end of the year, ac­cord­ing to Gao.

“We still don’t have an an­ti­body or vac­cine for clin­i­cal treat­ment of MERS be­cause the gov­ern­ment as­sesses care­fully whether it is ur­gent and af­ford­able to launch the clin­i­cal trial. Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies don’t think it is a prof­itable in­vest­ment when the dis­ease can be pre­vented by early in­ter­ven­tion.”

Be­sides the m336 an­ti­body, the re­search team at Fu­dan Univer­sity has de­vel­oped a spe­cific type of polypep­tide, which is ef­fec­tive in MERS virus preven­tion and costs much less than an­ti­bod­ies to com­plete a clin­i­cal trial, Jiang said.

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