Scientists have developed a potential new treatment for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the form of an antibody that blocks the deadly virus in mice.
The study by researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) found that the treatment protected mice from MERS infection.
The treatment - an antibody that blocks the MERS virus - was produced in cows that had been genetically modified to mimic certain aspects of the human immune system.
These cows were given a new MERS vaccine that led to production of anti-MERS antibodies in large quantities. These antibodies were then purified to produce the therapeutic that was tested in the MERS-infected mice.
"Last year, a South Korean epidemic of MERS killed more than 30 people. Overall, MERS has killed nearly 600 people since it was first discovered four years ago in Saudi Arabia," researchers said.
The researchers tested the treatment for MERS, a disease that can cause severe respiratory symptoms and has a death rate of 40 per cent.
"These results are very promising," said one of the lead researchers on the study, Matthew B Frieman, an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at UM SOM.
"This is important not only because it gives us a potential way to attack MERS, but also because it provides evidence that using these transgenic cows can rapidly produce therapeutics," said Frieman.
SAB, a biopharmaceutical company based in South Dakota, provided the genetically modified cows, a technology that it invented.
Novavax, a vaccine biotech company based in Gaithersburg in US, provided the vaccine that triggered the antibody production in the cows.
The next step, which will occur in the next three to six months, will be a human clinical trial to test the safety of the therapeutic, researchers said.
If that works, a Phase 2 trial will follow, to test whether it is effective for use in humans, in emergency situations.
MERS was first discovered in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It appears that the disease spread to humans from camels, who may themselves have been infected by bats, researchers said.
The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.