News Scan for May 02, 2014

More MERS-CoV antibodies
Ebola in Guinea
Renamed biodefense board
Universal flu vaccine

Scientists report finding potent antibodies to MERS-CoV

A US-Chinese team of scientists has reported the discovery of three human monoclonal antibodies with a potent ability to neutralize MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus), a find they say may point the way toward a drug to prevent or treat the infection.

The researchers, from the US National Cancer Institute, the University of Hong Kong, and Fudan University in Shanghai, described their findings yesterday in the Journal of Virology.

They said they identified the three antibodies from a very large library of naive antibodies. All three bound with high affinity to the receptor-binding domain of the MERS-CoV spike protein. One of them, called m336, showed "exceptional potency," achieving 50% neutralization of live MERS-CoV at a concentration of .07 microgram per milliliter.

"It therefore may have great potential as a candidate therapeutic and as a reagent to facilitate the development of vaccines against MERS-CoV," the scientists wrote.

They said it took them only a few weeks to discover the antibodies, which "suggests a possibility to use the new large antibody library and related methodology for quick response to public threat[s] resulting from emerging coronaviruses."

Their report comes on the heels of reported discoveries by two other groups of promising monoclonal antibodies against MERS-CoV. Teams from Harvard University and China reported those findings earlier this week.
Apr 30 J Virology abstract
Apr 28 CIDRAP News story on other MERS antibody studies


WHO: Two more Ebola cases in Guinea

Two new cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Guinea and six more deaths as of last evening were reported today by the World Health Organization (WHO). That brings the cumulative total to 226, with 149 deaths.

Of 210 cases tested, 127 have been laboratory-confirmed; this includes 81 fatal cases. Another 44 cases with 34 deaths have been classified as probable, and 55 with 34 deaths have been classified as suspected.

Cases in healthcare workers stand at 25 with 18 confirmed, and deaths among this group are at 16, with 11 of those in confirmed cases.

The geographic areas of Guinea with the most cases are Guekedou with 140 cases and 99 deaths, and Conakry, the capital, with 53 cases and 24 deaths. Tracing of contacts is continuing in these two areas.

The WHO states that because EVD's incubation period can be as long as 3 weeks, more cases are likely to be reported in coming weeks. It further notes that the recent availability of Ebola virus serology testing for use in patients with clinical disease but negative findings on polymerase chain reaction tests may change the number of confirmed cases.
May 2 WHO update
Most recent (Apr 29) CIDRAP News scan on the outbreak


US NBSB renamed to reflect expanded role

The US federal advisory committee known as the National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB) has been renamed the National Preparedness and Response Science Board to more accurately reflecting its work and expertise, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced this week.

The board provides recommendations to the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and to the HHS secretary on preventing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from public health emergencies, the agency said in a news release.

The NBSB was created under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006 and chartered in May 2007. The Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 broadened membership to include a representative with pediatric expertise as well as a state, tribal, territorial, or local public health official. It also expanded the board's duties to provide specified information to congressional committees.

The board has 13 voting members who have a range of expertise in science, medicine, and public health. Six new members were sworn in on Apr 29.
Apr 30 HHS news release


NIAID awards grant for development of universal flu vaccine

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has awarded a $4.4 million grant to the Etubics Corporation, working with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, to develop a universal influenza vaccine, according to a press release from the company.

A universal flu vaccine would address the lack of cross-reactive protection in current flu vaccines and would help lower healthcare costs and loss of life from influenza, which studies have said results in an average of more than 200,000 US hospitalizations each year, notes the release.

Etubics, a clinical stage biotechnology company based in Seattle, says it will construct, produce, and do animal testing of the vaccine; produce the large quantities needed to support an Investigational New Drug application to the Food and Drug Administration for phase 1 clinical trials; and carry out studies to determine the stability and potency of the vaccine for long-term storage.

Etubics' Chairman and CEO Frank Jones, PhD, said, "We are grateful to the NIAID for the support of our efforts to develop a much needed universal influenza vaccine. The recent H1N1 pandemic has taught us that a broad cross-reacting influenza vaccine is needed to protect against often fatal outbreaks as well as seasonal influenza."
Apr 30 Etubics press release


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