June 4, 2014
Drugs Screened for Effectiveness Against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

Bethesda, MD—No drugs have been developed to specifically target growing cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which appeared for the first time in the United States this spring, but researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health have screened hundreds of compounds to determine what currently available drugs might be effective against the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

MERS first was detected in humans in 2012 and has since caused 614 laboratory-confirmed infections, including 181 that were fatal, according to the World Health Organization. The case count jumped up in the last few months, with the first U.S. cases announced in early May.

“Outbreaks of emerging infections present the unique challenge of trying to select appropriate pharmacologic treatments in the clinic with little time available for drug testing and development,” write the authors from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Typically clinicians are left with general supportive care and often untested convalescent plasma as available treatment options. Repurposing of approved pharmaceutical drugs for new indications presents an attractive alternative to clinicians, researchers, public health agencies, drug developers and funding agencies.”

To address the urgent need for therapies, researchers screened a set of 290 compounds—already approved by the FDA or far advanced in clinical development for other indications—to determine if any might also show potential for working against MERS-CoV. The results were published recently in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

From the group of 290 compounds, 27 were shown in test tube experiments to be active against both MERS-CoV and the related severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus.

The pharmaceuticals, which include compounds that inhibited the viruses’ ability to enter and infect cells, belong to 13 different drug classes. Among them are inhibitors of estrogen receptors used for cancer treatment and inhibitors of dopamine receptors used as antipsychotics, according to the report.

The research team is now studying the effects of some of the identified compounds in mice experimentally infected with MERS-CoV.

“Given development times and manufacturing requirements for new products, repurposing of existing drugs is likely the only solution for outbreaks due to emerging viruses,” the investigators note.

U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect