With the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) still growing, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are reporting some promising results from using a drug cocktail of two common, licensed antiviral drugs at reducing viral replication in MERS infected monkeys, according to a study published today in Nature Medicine.
According to the research, scientists infected six rhesus macaques with MERS-CoV and, eight hours later, treated half of them with the two-drug regimen of ribavirin and interferon (IFN-α2b). Compared to the untreated animals, the treatment group showed no breathing difficulties and only minimal X-ray evidence of pneumonia. The treated animals also had lower amounts of virus and less severe tissue damage in the lungs.
The New York Times reports that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the study “not a game changer, but an important observation.”
The number of monkeys was minimal, treatment was started very soon after infection, and drugs that work in monkeys sometimes fail in humans, he said, adding: “But if I were a doctor with MERS patients, and I had nothing else to give them, I wouldn’t hesitate. If someone has advanced disease, there’s 50 percent mortality.”
Researchers say data suggest that treatment of MERS-CoV infected rhesus macaques with IFN-α2b and ribavirin reduces virus replication, moderates the host response and improves clinical outcome. As these two drugs are already used in combination in the clinic for other infections, IFN-α2b and ribavirin should be considered for the management of MERS-CoV cases.
According to the latest update from the World Health Organization, globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO has been informed of a total of 114 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 54 deaths.
Source: The Global Dispatch