Novel DNA Vaccine Provides Protection Against MERS Virus

David B. Weiner, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Chair, Gene Therapy and Vaccine Program, CAMB Co-Leader Tumor Virology Program, Abramson Cancer Program University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Interview with:
David B. Weiner, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Chair, Gene Therapy and Vaccine Program, CAMB
Co-Leader Tumor Virology Program, Abramson Cancer Program
University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Weiner: MERS, like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), is characterized by high fever and severe cough from pneumonia. MERS is caused by an emerging human coronavirus, which is distinct from the SARS coronavirus. Since its identification in 2012, MERS has been linked to over 1,300 infections and close to 400 deaths. It has occurred in the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, and in the US and in Asia. It can be spread in a hospital setting.

Scientists now report that a novel synthetic DNA vaccine can, for the first time, induce protective immunity against the Middle EastRespiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus in animal species.   Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The NIH, the Public Health agency of Canada, and from a leading company in the development of synthetic DNA vaccine technology, Inovio described the results in a paper  published their work in Science Translational Medicine (STM) this week.  The experimental, preventive vaccine, given six weeks before exposure to the MERS virus, fully protects rhesus macaques from disease. The vaccine also generated potentially protective antibodies in blood drawn from camels, the purported source of MERS transmission in the Middle East.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Dr David Weiner, of the Perelman School of Medicine, senior author of the study described “The significant recent increase in MERS cases, coupled with the lack of effective antiviral therapies or vaccines to treat or prevent this infection, have raised significant concern,” Weiner said. “Accordingly the development of a vaccine for MERS remains a high priority. and the results reported here in this regard are encouraging.”

The STM study describes a vaccine to prevent disease and control virus replication in an important primate model of MERS pathogenesis, which was developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The vaccine was able to prevent MERS disease and offered benefit to 100 percent of the animals in this study. In addition, the vaccine induced antibodies that are linked with protection in camels, a species that is thought to be a major source of transmission to humans from the Middle East, showing that this vaccine could be deployed to break this this link in the MERS transmission cycle. In the field, say the researchers, this vaccine could decrease person-to-person spread of infection in the event of an outbreak and help to protect health care workers or exposed individuals.

Dr. Muthumani first author of the study described “This simple synthetic vaccine has the potential to overcome important production and deployment limitations, and what’s more, the vaccine is non-live, so does not pose a risk of spreading to unintended individuals.”

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Weiner: Most importantly the corportate collaborator for this study, Inovio, will move this program into human testing.  Under a previously announced collaboration agreement with GeneOne Life Science Inc. (KSE: 011000), Inovio’s MERS vaccine product will advance into a clinical trial in healthy volunteers before the year end.  In addition studies of the use of such a vaccine in a formulation specific for Camels, the animal species associated with transmission to humans, is continuing.


Muthumani, D. Falzarano, E. L. Reuschel, C. Tingey, S. Flingai, D. O. Villarreal, M. Wise, A. Patel, A. Izmirly, A. Aljuaid, A. M. Seliga, G. Soule, M. Morrow, K. A. Kraynyak, A. S. Khan, D. P. Scott, F. Feldmann, R. LaCasse, K. Meade-White, A. Okumura, K. E. Ugen, N. Y. Sardesai, J. J. Kim, G. Kobinger, H. Feldmann, D. B. Weiner. A synthetic consensus anti-spike protein DNA vaccine induces protective immunity against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in nonhuman primates. Science Translational Medicine, 2015; 7 (301): 301ra132 DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.aac7462 is not a forum for the exchange of personal medical information, advice or the promotion of self-destructive behavior (e.g., eating disorders, suicide). While you may freely discuss your troubles, you should not look to the Website for information or advice on such topics. Instead, we recommend that you talk in person with a trusted medical professional.

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David B. Weiner, Ph.D. (2015). Novel DNA Vaccine Provides Protection Against MERS Virus 

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