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Human antibodies made in cows can treat MERS

Saudi Arabia, January 11, 2018

Human antibodies made in genetically engineered cows have proved safe in an early stage clinical trial, US scientists said on Wednesday, and could be developed into a treatment for the fatal viral disease, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

MERS is a SARS-like viral infection first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012 that has caused deadly outbreaks in the Middle East as well as sporadic cases around the world.

About 35 percent of infected people have died — more than 700 individuals so far.

The Saudi Ministry of Health on Tuesday announced five new MERS cases in the past four days.

Despite more than five years of waves of infection, no effective treatment or vaccine has been developed against MERS, which has a 35 percent case fatality rate and has so far killed at least 740 people worldwide.

More than 80 percent of MERS cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, according to the World Health Organization.

In research published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal on Wednesday, scientists found that human antibodies called SAB-301 generated in so-called transchromosomic cattle — animals with human DNA incorporated into their genome — were safe in healthy volunteers.

The antibodies also persisted for more time than the MERS virus typically remains in the body, the study found, with antibodies still detected in bloodstream after 90 days. This points a way ahead for the antibodies — which offer immunity against an invading infection — to be tested in further trials in people infected with MERS, the researchers said.

“This is the first study to show the safety and immune effects of a potential treatment for MERS,” said John Beigel at Leidos Biomedical Research, who co-led the US government-funded study.

“The data from our study suggest that SAB-301 is safe, and further research into the treatment is warranted.” — Agencies