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Finding Existing Drugs That Can Fight MERS

May 19, 2014 04:15 PM EDT

As more Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) cases appear across the globe, two research teams have identified pre-existing drugs that could effectively treat the potentially deadly disease. 

Two reports released for early publication in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy detail how researchers from North America and Europe scoured their respective medical databases for approved or pending-approval drugs which could be used to treat MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

For the first study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Zalicus Inc., and the University of Maryland screened a library of 290 pharmaceutical drugs - some of which are already in advanced clinical development for their potential to treat symptoms or causes related to a MERS infection.

Following an analysis of shared chemical properties of potential treatment options, the researchers identified 27 anti-MERS compounds included as active ingredients in some drugs. However, the levels and number of compounds varied greatly. Worried about the speed with which MERS has spread to new countries, they concluded that experimental drugs still undergoing testing should be viewed as a second hope.

"Given development times and manufacturing requirements for new products, repurposing of existing drugs is likely the best solution to rapidly identify therapeutics for outbreaks due to emerging viruses," study author Matthew Frieman of the University of Maryland Medical School said in an America Society for Microbiology (ASM) press release.

A second similar study detailed how scientists from the European antiviral research program SILVER analyzed a database of 348 drugs already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Following this analysis, four compounds were identified as MERS-CoV inhibitors that could also be used to treat Asia's deadly respiratory infection, SARS-CoV.

According to both studies, the antimalarial drug chloroquine and the antipsychotic chlorpromazine appear to be promising options in the event of an outbreak.

As of now, Europe and North America have primarily seen isolated cases of the potentially fatal respiratory infection, with the United States' first secondary infection being identified in an Illinois man just this week.

The first study was published ahead of print on May 19.

The second study was published ahead of print on May 19.

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