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Novavax, U. of Maryland report positive preclinical results for MERS vaccine

With the arrival of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in the U.S. and a rising death toll in Saudi Arabia, a vaccine designed by Novavax ($NVAX) and the University of Maryland has shown promise in blocking the infection in animals.

In a study published in Vaccine, researchers describe a novel method to rapidly develop vaccines against previously unknown viruses, such as MERS-CoV, which emerge suddenly and cause severe illness in humans. The experimental MERS jab was developed using Novavax’s nanoparticle vaccine technology based on a surface spike protein, or ‘S’ protein, on the MERS virus that is responsible for binding the virus to target cells.

In mice, the vaccine candidate induced neutralizing antibodies that effectively blocked the virus from infecting cells.
The University of Maryland and Novavax team also reported in the study that a vaccine candidate against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) using a similar platform also inhibited virus infection.

Experts have questioned the logic of spending millions on a potential vaccines and immunization efforts and instead point to the possibility of targeting the likely source of the viral outbreak–camels.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry said in April that it was working with 5 international pharma companies to develop a vaccine, which could be available as soon as this fall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 2 confirmed the first U.S. case of MERS in a healthcare provider in Indiana with a history of travel to Saudi Arabia.