MERS getting more attention as vaccine candidate enters PhI

LMU's Gerd Sutter

As the MERS outbreak in South Korea continues to unfold, scientists at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich are ushering a candidate vaccine into clinical trials with hopes of a winner.

Last month, the group, led by Gerd Sutter, reported in the Journal of Virology that their candidate showed promising results in a trial on mice, leading to the announcement this week of a Phase I trial in humans.

Following immunization with the candidate--dubbed MVA-MERS-S--the mice showed "markedly impaired" virus replication and decreased numbers of virus genome in lung tissue.

"This demonstrates that our vaccine candidate is both safe and effective," Sutter said in a statement. "Thus, there is no obvious risk that the resulting immune response might exacerbate rather than prevent the infection." The German Center for Infection Research has made a €1.5 million grant to support the trial.

The news comes a week after scientists expressed frustration that there hasn't been more work dedicated to the virus about which much is known. MERS first surfaced in humans three years ago and has taken more than 460 lives, leaving many upset that there isn't a vaccine to help the sufferers.

But some experts have questioned the need for a vaccine, arguing that it may be better to trace the source. For Big Pharma, the economics of a MERS vaccine have been unclear, Reuters reported last week, leading to the lack of research. As evidenced by the Ebola outbreak, pharma stands to lose if it's developing a vaccine when an outbreak wanes and thus makes it difficult to conduct trials.

In an interview with Reuters, GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Ebola head, Ripley Ballou, said the company doesn't have a MERS program but is "certainly thinking about what we should do if this becomes an issue."

- here's the statement
- and the abstract