Experimental drug shows promise against dangerous viruses

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An experimental drug is being developed to fight SARS and MERS infection. (iStock)
An experimental drug is being developed to fight SARS and MERS infection. (iStock)

An experimental antiviral drug is effective against a number of coronaviruses, including some that can cause deadly epidemics, researchers say.

In this study, laboratory tests showed that the experimental drug called GS-5734 was effective against SARS, MERS and other coronaviruses. GS-5734 is currently in clinical development for treatment of Ebola virus, the researchers said.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that infect birds and mammals, including humans. These viruses include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) – a contagious and sometimes fatal viral respiratory illness which has a 10% death rate, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) – a fatal viral respiratory illness from coming into contact with sick camels – which has a 40% death rate.

Currently, there are no effective antiviral drugs for coronaviruses, the study authors pointed out.

'Exciting potential therapeutic'

There are extensive surveillance systems in place in South Africa to keep the country disease-free whereby tens of thousands of specimens from chickens are tested on an ongoing basis, Health24 previously stated.

The investigators also found that the drug was effective against SARS in mice, according to the study in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"This compound shows broad activity against a variety of human and animal coronaviruses," Dr Mark Denison, a professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

Denison added that the drug represents an "exciting potential therapeutic" for a family of viruses that can move from animals to humans.

The researchers will continue to use the drug "as a probe to try to understand the biology of the virus, how and why this drug works, and to identify new targets for inhibiting coronaviruses," he said.

Read more:

SARS-like virus in bats could jump to humans

Bird flu: how worried should we be?

Bird flu mutation resistant to medication

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