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Risks of the MERS virus: Coronaviruses can spillover from animals to humans

Saudi Arabia warns of MERS risk from camels as cases rise, says a May 11, 2014 Reuters news article. First reported two years ago in Saudi Arabia, MERS is a coronavirus like SARS, which originated in animals and killed around 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China in 2002. Turns out the virus is found in camels. See, "1st American MERS Patient Released From Hospital." That article explains that the first American MERS patient, a healthcare worker who was employed helping patients sick with MERS in Saudi Arabia, flew back to the USA and then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana, while coming down with MERS himself. MERS is an abbreviation for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.The virus is widespread in camels in Saudi Arabia, and MERS also has appeared in Egypt. You also may wish to see a news release, "MERS virus widespread in Saudi Arabian camels." With so many people flying around the world, health care workers working in the Middle East who have caught the virus can fly to the US or any other country to go home, not knowing they're coming down with MERS until they become severely ill. The virus is fatal to 30 percent of those who contract it and get sick.

Risks of the MERS virus: Coronaviruses can spillover from animals to humans.
Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images

The first American diagnosed with a mysterious virus from the Middle East was released Friday from a northwestern Indiana hospital after health officials determined the patient "poses no threat to the community," says the news article. That patient flew on a plane to the midwest and then took a bus to Indiana, all the while exposing all those other passengers to the virus.

The patient is considered fully recovered and has been cleared by health officials to travel, if necessary, after testing negative for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, the Indiana State Department of Health said in a statement. So far, no one else has become sick.

Community Hospital chief medical information officer Dr. Alan Kumar said hospital officials completed their discharge plans for the patient with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Indiana health officials.

The patient has tested negative for MERS, is no longer symptomatic and poses no threat to the community," according to a statement mentioned in the Reuters news article. MERS belongs to the coronavirus family that also includes the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Saudi Arabia said people handling camels should wear masks and gloves to prevent spreading Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), issuing such a warning for the first time as cases of the potentially fatal virus neared 500 in the kingdom.

Camels are the source of the disease

Health experts say camels are the most likely animal source of infection for the disease, which the Saudi Health Ministry said on May 11, 2014 three more people had caught and four had died from, according to the Reuters news article. Also you may wish to see a news release, "MERS virus widespread in Saudi Arabian camels."

A new experimental vaccine produces immune response against MERS virus, says a recent study. The University of Maryland School of Medicine study is published in Vaccine highlights first potential effective means for preventing MERS coronavirus outbreak, says an April 30, 2014 news release, "New experimental vaccine produces immune response against MERS virus."

The University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) and Novavax, Inc. (NASDAQ: NVAX) today announced that an investigational vaccine candidate developed by Novavax against the recently emerged Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) blocked infection in laboratory studies. UM SOM and Novavax also reported that a vaccine candidate against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) developed by Novavax on a similar platform also inhibited virus infection.

Researchers reported these findings in an article published in the April 13, 2014 issue of the journal Vaccine . You may wish to check out the abstracts of those two studies, "Purified coronavirus Spike protein nanoparticles induce coronavirus neutralizing antibodies in mice." Vaccine. In press, April 13, 2014. Authors are C. M. Coleman et al. Or see "Chimeric severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) S glycoprotein and influenza matrix 1 efficiently form virus-like particles (VLPs) that protect mice against challenge with SARS-CoV, 2011." Vaccine. September 2, 2011. Authors are Y. Liu et al.

The new research involves a novel method to rapidly develop vaccines against previously unknown viruses, such as MERS-CoV, which appear suddenly and cause severe illnesses in humans

Historically, vaccine strategies for emerging pathogens have been limited due to the sudden nature in which the virus first appears and delayed by the protracted traditional vaccine development process. This peer-reviewed manuscript describes a novel method to rapidly develop vaccines against previously unknown viruses, such as MERS-CoV, which appear suddenly and cause severe illnesses in humans. The experimental vaccines, which were tested in conjunction with Novavax' proprietary adjuvant Matrix-M™, induced neutralizing antibodies, or immune responses, that prevent viruses from infecting cells.

"Our protein nanoparticle vaccine technology is proving to have the potential to respond rapidly to emerging viruses such as MERS-CoV and certain potential pandemic influenza strains, addressing what are clearly urgent public health needs," said Gale Smith, Ph.D., according to the April 30, 2014 news release, "New experimental vaccine produces immune response against MERS virus." Smith is Vice President of Vaccine Development at Novavax. "Novavax will continue to evaluate this technology to produce highly immunogenic nanoparticles for coronavirus, influenza, and other human disease pathogens with the potential for pandemic and sustained human to human transmission."

Coronaviruses can spillover from animals to humans anytime

"The emergence of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV demonstrates how coronaviruses can spillover from animals into humans at any time, causing lethal disease," said Matthew B. Frieman, Ph.D., according to that news release. Frieman is an Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and corresponding author on the publication. "Despite efforts to create a vaccine against SARS-CoV, no vaccine candidate has, to date, been successfully licensed for use. We have demonstrated that this novel method rapidly creates SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV vaccines that induce neutralizing antibodies in mice."

"The University of Maryland School of Medicine investigators are continually working toward a better understanding of the interactions between the human immune system and a variety of known and novel harmful microbes," said E. Albert Reece, according to the news release. Reece is Vice President of Medical Affairs, the University of Maryland and the John Z. and Akiko Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine. "This makes our faculty poised to respond to emerging infectious diseases, such as MERS-CoV, which threaten the health and wellbeing of the global population."

The vaccine candidates were made using Novavax' recombinant nanoparticle vaccine technology and based on the major surface spike (S) protein, a SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV surface protein responsible for attaching the virus to cells. Novavax previously demonstrated that spike protein nanoparticles could protect animals against lethal live challenge using the SARS-CoV virus2.

MERS-CoV, first identified in 2012, is one of a family of viruses with the potential to rapidly spread from a benign infection of animals to cause severe disease in humans

In 2003, a previously unknown coronavirus called SARS-CoV caused an outbreak that raised health alarms by infecting over 8,000 individuals and killing 775. According to the World Health Organization, the novel MERS-CoV thus far has resulted in 107 deaths out of 345 infections, the majority of which are characterized by severe illness and hospitalizations. Both diseases were marked by a jump from animals to people and while SARS-CoV spread more quickly in humans, MERS-CoV is proving to be more deadly. For more information, you also may wish to check out the website of the University of Maryland School of Medicine .

About Novavax

Novavax, Inc. (Nasdaq: NVAX) is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company creating novel vaccines and vaccine adjuvants to address a broad range of infectious diseases worldwide. Using innovative proprietary recombinant protein nanoparticle vaccine technology, the company produces vaccine candidates to efficiently and effectively respond to both known and newly emergent diseases.

Novavax is involved in several international partnerships, including collaborations with Cadila Pharmaceuticals of India, LG Life Sciences of Korea, PATH and recently acquired Isconova AB, a leading vaccine adjuvant company located in Sweden. Together, Novavax' network supports its global commercialization strategy to create real and lasting change in the biopharmaceutical and vaccinology fields. Additional information about Novavax is available on the company's website, You also may wish to check out other news releases on the MERS virus, such as "Scientists identify antibodies against deadly emerging disease" and "MERS virus widespread in Saudi Arabian camels."

About Vaccine

Vaccine is the pre-eminent journal for those interested in vaccines and vaccination. It is the official journal of The Edward Jenner Society, The International Society for Vaccines and The Japanese Society for Vaccinology.

Novavax Inc., Forward-Looking Statements

Statements herein relating to the future of Novavax and the ongoing development of its vaccine and adjuvant products are forward-looking statements. Novavax cautions that these forward looking statements are subject to numerous risks and uncertainties, which could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such statements.

These risks and uncertainties include those identified under the heading "Risk Factors" in the Novavax Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2013, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). We caution investors not to place considerable reliance on the forward-looking statements contained in this press release.

You are encouraged to read the company's filings with the SEC, available at, for a discussion of these and other risks and uncertainties. As a consumer, you need to give careful consideration to these risks and uncertainties when it's about any given vaccine.

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