Combination of 2 antiviral drugs improves outcome in monkey model of MERS-CoV infection

National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists report that a combination of two licensed antiviral drugs reduces virus replication and improves clinical outcome in a recently developed monkey model of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection. Their study, which appears as a letter in the Sept. 8 edition of Nature Medicine, expands on work published in April showing that a combination of ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b stops MERS-CoV from replicating in cell culture. Both antivirals are routinely used together to treat viral diseases such as hepatitis C.

In the latest study, investigators at NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) infected six rhesus macaques with MERS-CoV and, eight hours later, treated half of them with the two-drug regimen. 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.

As of Aug. 30, 2013, the World Health Organization has reported 108 human cases of MERS-CoV infection, including 50 deaths. Given the current lack of treatment options, the authors of this study conclude that combined ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b therapy should be considered as an early intervention.

Source: NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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