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Screen of existing drugs finds compounds active against MERS coronavirus


Research by NIH scientists, grantees identifies leads for further study

Clinicians treating patients suffering from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) currently have no drugs specifically targeted to the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV), a virus first detected in humans in 2012 that has since caused 614 laboratory-confirmed infections, including 181 that were fatal, according to the World Health Organization.

The case count escalated sharply in the spring of this year, and the first cases in the United States were announced in early May. To address the urgent need for therapies, researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health screened a set of 290 compounds already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or far advanced in clinical development for other indications to determine if any might also show potential for working against MERS-CoV.

From the group of 290 compounds, the scientists identified 27 that, in test tube experiments, showed activity against both MERS-CoV and the related SARS coronavirus. These included compounds that inhibited the viruses' ability to enter and infect cells.

The active compounds belong to 13 different classes of pharmaceuticals, including drugs normally used to treat cancer and psychiatric conditions, and provide leads for continued study in animals and potentially for study in people. The research team is now studying the effects of some of the identified compounds in mice experimentally infected with MERS-CoV.

"Given development times and manufacturing requirements for new products, repurposing of existing drugs is likely the only solution for outbreaks due to emerging viruses," the investigators noted in the paper now online in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. The research was a collaboration between investigators at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the National Institutes of Health, and Matthew B. Frieman, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.



J Dyall et al. Repurposing of clinically developed drugs for treatment of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy DOI: 10.1128/AAC.03036-14 (2014).


NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci., M.D., is available to comment on this research. Co-author Lisa Hensley, Ph.D., associate director for science, NIAID Integrated Research Facility, is also available to discuss the findings.


To schedule interviews, please contact Anne A. Oplinger, (301) 402-1663,

For additional information about research on MERS and other coronaviruses by NIAID scientists and grantees, see:

The study was funded, in part, by NIAID grant AI095569.

NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®

Anne A. Oplinger | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Allergy Infectious MERS MERS-CoV NIAID NIH Screen coronavirus diseases drugs investigators viruses

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