Interferon-alpha-2a and Ribavirin, a drug combo being prescribed for the treatment of hepatitis C were found to be effective against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). As of now, no effective treatment is developed against MERS. The deadly pneumonia is caused by a coronavirus, first reported by Saudi Arabia in 2012. About 10% of the infected individuals have died due to pneumonia complications.
The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.
According to Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a scientist at department of microbiology, University of Washington, the drug combo are already available in the market, and the drugs could be used immediately to treat the MERS-CoV infected patients. Dr. Angela conducted the study in collaboration with researchers from U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, University of Manitoba, Canada, UW Viromics Laboratory and the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, France.
The team assessed the response of lung cells including gene expression studies after Interferon alpha-2b and Ribavirin treatment. The molecular studies were guided by Dr. Michael Katze, UW professor of microbiology, UW Viromics Laboratory. The drug combo acts as an immunomodulator against the virus, and promote lung tissue repair. However, the conventional anti-viral drugs target the viral replication.
Researchers including eminent scientists Dr. Darryl Falzarano from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have infected primates with MERS. The team studied the molecular changes in transcriptome in the infected monkeys. Microarray technique was used to detect and measure RNA transcripts, and tissue response against the pathogen. The microarray can study the entire genomic sequence, instead of studying one gene at a time.
In treated primates, increased gene transcription against the viral infection was observed. Reduced gene transcription is linked with inflammation. In the treated animals, increased protein expression such as sonic hedgehog proteins was observed. Sonic hedgehog protein is involved in the immunomodulation against viral infection. Targeted immune response and reduced inflammation may result in rapid repair of inflamed tissues and growth of lung tissues.
In viral influenza, the lung tissues inflammation is due to uncontrolled immune response, and not due to viral infections, Dr. Angela said. Apart from the drug combo, other immunomodulator anti-viral drugs could be effective against MERV-CoV and other similar infections, she noted.