Taiwan Develops New Drug for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus
MERS-CoV or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus is a viral respiratory illness that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The coronavirus includes viruses that infect animals, cause the common cold in humans, and caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in South-east Asia in 2003. In May 2015, MERS-CoV was found in South Korea when a man returned from the Middle East. As of June 19, 2015, the disease has spread to about 166 people and caused 24 deaths in South Korea. The current outbreak in South Korea is the largest reported outside Saudi Arabia.
It is not known for certain how MERS-CoV is transmitted. It is possible the virus is spread via droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. MERS-CoV can cause a rapid onset of severe respiratory disease in people similar to pneumonia, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
The management of MERS-CoV is similar to that of SARS and dependent on the patient’s medical condition. Patients infected with MERS-CoV require oxygen support and in severe cases mechanical ventilation and intensive-care-unit support. To date no medication or vaccine has been proven to be effective for the treatment or prevention of MERS-CoV. Several drugs have been identified. However results are either inconclusive or further research is required.
Ming-Hon Hou a researcher from the National Chung Hsing University (NCHU) of Taiwan and coronavirus expert Stanley Perlman from the University of Iowa have been working together to develop a potential drug to combat MERS-CoV.Using human CoV-OC43 (HCoV-OC43) as a model for the coronavirus, Hou and his team used the 3D structure of HCoV-OC43 N-NTD complexed with ribonucleoside 5′-monophosphates to identify a distinct ribonucleotide-binding pocket. Using virtual screening and by targeting this pocket, they identified and developed a new coronavirus N protein inhibitor. This proposed drug is called AM1. AMI reduces the N protein’s RNA-binding affinity and hinders the replication of the virus. AM1 has been granted patency in Taiwan, and will undergo further development and testing in the United States.