Scientists have taken a big leap towards making the world’s first vaccine against the new SARSlike virus that WHO fears is capable of causing a global pandemic.
A strain of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS–CoV) has been created by scientists that could be used as a vaccine against the disease.
The lab–engineered MERS virus has a mutation in its envelope protein that makes it capable of infecting a cell and replicating its genetic material, but deprives it of the ability to spread to other tissues and cause disease. The authors say once additional safe guards are engineered into the deadly virus it will be used to create a safe and effective live–attenuated vaccine against MERS. The fatality rate for this infection at present remains as high as 60%.
Luis Enjuanes from the Autonomous University of Madrid says the breakthrough was a result of a combination of synthetic biology and genetic engineering. "The injected vaccine will only replicate in a reduced number of cells and produce enough antigen to immunize the host. It therefore cannot infect other people, even those in close contact with a vaccinated person," Enjuanes said.
MERS was first identified in June 2012 and since then, the WHO has been notified of 108 cases of infection, including 50 deaths.
Although the total number of cases is still relatively small, the case fatality rate and the spread of the virus to countries beyond the Middle East is alarming to public health officials.
If the virus evolves the ability to transmit easily from person to person, a much more widespread epidemic is possible. Globally, there is no reliable vaccine available against the virus at present. Vaccinating children and elders is of vital importance as in case a pandemic breaks out.
Times of India
11 Sep 2013, London