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MERS Vaccine Candidate Produces Immune Response in Lab Test

Vaccination (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

30 April 2014. Researchers at the biotechnology company Novavax Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland and University of Maryland medical school in Baltimore found new vaccines made from engineered protein nanoparticles generated in lab mice an immune response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) viruses. The team led by Maryland immunologist Matthew Frieman reported its findings earlier this month in the journal Vaccine (paid subscription required).

A MERS outbreak is currently underway since 2012 in six Middle Eastern countries, with cases also reported in Tunisia, France, Germany, and the U.K. The virus, which may have spread from camels, is marked by severe respiratory symptoms including shortness of breath, coughing, and fever. About half of those contracting MERS died.

A SARS outbreak occurred in 2003-2004, mainly in Asia. SARS is characterized by high fever, mild respiratory symptoms, body aches, and in some cases diarrhea. Most SARS cases, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead to pneumonia.

Both MERS and SARS result from coronaviruses, which get their name from spikes resembling crowns on their surfaces. Coronaviruses can also affect animals. CDC says the MERS virus was found in camels and bats. Recent evidence also points to bats as a cause of the SARS virus. No vaccines have been approved addressing the coronavirus for either MERS or SARS.

The Novavax technology generates nanoscale protein particles engineered to meet the genetic code of the target virus. This process, says the company, can respond faster to a pandemic flu outbreak than most current methods based on dead viruses or live crippled viruses. Most Novavax nanoparticles contain surface proteins designed to produce immunity in their recipients and protect against activity by the target viruses.

In the study, Frieman and colleagues tested candidate vaccines for MERS and SARS configured as nanoparticles made from proteins protruding on the surface that help coronoviruses bind to targets and enter target cells. In each case, the researchers combined the nanoparticles with a vaccine adjuvant made by Novavax that boosts the vaccine’s immune response. The team vaccinated lab mice with vaccine candidates and adjuvant, and found the combination produced stronger antibodies against those viruses in the vaccinated mice.

Novavax is collaborating with companies in India and Korea to produce vaccines, and has a contract with Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to produce vaccines for pandemic and seasonal flu.

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