NIAID-funded scientists are exploring ways to treat and prevent human coronavirus infections by working to develop new antibodies, drugs, and vaccines that block entry to cells, delay the immune system response, or block viral replication. For COVID-19, NIAID scientists, working in Bethesda, Md., and Hamilton, Mont., are preparing to test the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has shown promise against other coronaviruses in animal models. NIAID is exploring other broad-spectrum antiviral compounds for activity against COVID-19. NIAID also plans to evaluate Kaletra, also known as lopinavir and ritonavir, and interferon-beta for their activity against COVID-19.
The NIAID Vaccine Research Center (VRC) is drawing on broad research experience with coronaviruses, combined with a wide network of collaborators from academia, other government agencies and industry, on the development of a vaccine candidate expressing the viral spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 using a messenger RNA vaccine platform technology. NIAID anticipates the experimental vaccine will be ready for clinical testing in the coming months. NIAID scientists at Rocky Mountain Laboratories are collaborating with Oxford University investigators on the development of a chimpanzee adenovirus-vectored vaccine candidate against COVID-19. In addition, NIAID-supported scientists also are working to see if vaccines developed for SARS are effective against COVID-19.
Grantees studying MERS are working to develop vaccines that target the viral Spike protein of a live, attenuated MERS vaccine, which is a type of vaccine that contains a version of the living microbe that has been weakened in the lab so it cannot cause disease. Grantees and NIAID VRC investigators are using knowledge learned from SARS vaccine development to create MERS treatments. One method for MERS uses neutralizing monoclonal antibodies—developed from a recovered MERS patient and immunized rhesus macaques—that target multiple sites on the virus S protein.
NIAID has also supported the clinical testing of two promising antibody-based therapeutics, which prevent the virus from infecting and entering cells. NIAID conducted a phase 1 clinical trial of SAB-301, an experimental MERS treatment developed from cattle that make human antibodies. This was shown to be safe and well tolerated in healthy adults. More recently, NIAID supported a Phase I clinical trial of a combination of two monoclonal antibodies, REGN3048 and REGN 3051, and demonstrated this combination was also safe and well tolerated. Planning for follow on Phase 2/3 efficacy studies using SAB-301 is currently ongoing with partners where MERS is endemic, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.