Promising results spur new efforts

20 Apr 2020

The first clinical study in humans of an experimental vaccine against the MERS coronavirus, in which LMU‘s Gerd Sutter was involved, has yielded positive results - and raises hopes for the development of a similar agent against SARS-CoV-2.

Over the past 20 years, three novel coronaviruses have been responsible for large-scale outbreaks of severe, and sometimes lethal, respiratory disease in humans. The SARS virus emerged in 2002 and the MERS virus was first identified in 2012. Both of these resulted in relatively localized epidemics, while the ongoing global pandemic is caused by the closely related virus SARS-CoV-2. Following the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a network of research groups based in Hamburg, Marburg and Munich, coordinated by the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), set out to develop a vaccine against MERS. These researchers have now carried out the first clinical trial of the vaccine in humans. The results show that the vaccine, dubbed MVA-MERS-S, is well tolerated and induces sustained production of specific antibodies against the virus.

“The results of the study are important and encouraging in the context of our efforts to create a vaccine against the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2,” says Professor Marylyn Addo, Head of the Infection Biology Section at the University Medical Center in Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). “Our work on the MERS vaccine provides the conceptual and practical framework on which we in the DZIF are engaged in the development of a protective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.”

The anti-MERS vaccine is based on an attenuated virus strain called Modified Vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA), which was safely employed during the global vaccination campaign that led to the eradication of smallpox. By introducing into the MVA genome a gene that codes for a protein component of the MERS coronavirus, the team hoped to stimulate the production of specific antibodies that protect against MERS. The consortium is now using the same strategy and the same viral vector (MVA) to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. In this case, they are using the gene for the spike protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 in place of that for the related but divergent MERS-CoV homologue. (DZIF/LMU)The Lancet Infectious Diseases 2020

For further information, see: Race against time