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Studies Suggest Existing Drugs May Work Against MERS

Findings could speed access to treatment for patients who can't wait for new drugs to be developed

TUESDAY, May 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- As media reports warn of the first cases of the potentially deadly MERS virus in the United States, three new studies suggest that certain existing drugs might help fight the illness. The three studies were published online May 19 in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

In the first study, Matthew Frieman, Ph.D., from the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore, and colleagues reviewed 290 drugs that were already approved in the United States or are in advanced development. Of those drugs, 27 worked against both the MERS virus and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, both pathogens from the coronavirus family of viruses. Among the effective drugs are cancer drugs and antipsychotics.

In the second study, European researchers screened 348 U.S. Food and Administration-approved drugs. They spotted four that appeared effective against MERS and SARS at relatively low concentrations. These included two also identified in the first study: the antimalarial drug chloroquine and the antipsychotic chlorpromazine.

Researchers involved in a third study found that an experimental drug previously shown to prevent the SARS virus from multiplying had the same effect on MERS. The drug could help point the way to the development of drugs that could be used to treat MERS, SARS, and other coronaviruses, according to coauthor Stefan Sarafianos, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri in Columbia.

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