Two months after the outbreak of the coronavirus in South Korea, researchers are presenting first results of an effective treatment for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The Swiss biotech Humabs BioMed has been able to isolate an effective antibody from a cured patient that should now be further developed under a non-profit base.

In 2012, a new coronavirus with the origin in the Arabian Peninsula was identified: MERS-CoV. To infect humans, the virus is believed to take a long way, making stopovers in bats and Arabian camels. However, when the virus is transferred from the camels to humans, it can cause a severe illness called Middel East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The disease affects the lungs and the kidneys and is potentially lethal. Current treatments ease the symptoms, but there is no cure for the disease.

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MERS-CoV-Partikel. Source: National Institutes of Health

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The situation could soon be changed thanks to Humabs. The Swiss company focuses on the development of human monoclonal antibodies from recovered patients. These “winner antibodies”, as Humabs calls them, are then licensed to experienced partner-companies. Humabs has an ongoing partnership with MedImmune to treat Influenza A, as well as another one with Novartis to treat herpes. Both treatments are in clinical stage.

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Humabs Pipeline

For the treatment of the Middel East respiratory syndrom, Humabs isolated the antibody named LCA60 generated by memory B-cells from a recovered patient that was infected two years ago. LCA60 binds to a highly conserved site on the virus, thereby inhibiting the latter to bind to its receptor on target cells. Preclinical studies have shown that it is effective against all three clinical relevant MERS-CoV strains, including the one from the latest outbreak in South Korea. This outbreak has been active from Mai to July of this year and counted at least 186 sick persons.

Using Humabs Cellclone technology, it took the company five weeks to select, clone and sequence LCA60 and further three months to establish a stable cell line ready for manufacturing. Alcide Barberis, CEO of Humabs, emphasized that the rapid pathway for an effective treatment is especially important in fighting the outbreak of epidemics of life threatening diseases within a short time.

The cell line would be ready for entering Phase I in a few months, or it could be used in a compassionate use program. Since Humabs wants to develop the therapeutic on a non-profit basis, it is currently searching support from charities.

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