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Purdue researchers seek treatment for new MERS coronavirus


A pair of Purdue University researchers who in the past created compounds to block the SARS virus are now tackling the new Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV.

The team's successful work on SARS paved the way for them to swiftly work on MERS CoV, reducing parts of the process that would normally take years to a matter of months, said Andrew Mesecar, the Walther Professor of Cancer Structural Biology and a professor of biological sciences and chemistry.

Mesecar and Arun Ghosh, the Ian P. Rothwell Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, are testing compounds that could lead to potential treatments for the new virus.

"MERS-CoV and SARS are similar, yet distinctly different coronaviruses," Mesecar said. "Our understanding of the prime targets for treatment of the SARS virus and the molecular inhibitors we have designed against it give us a good head start in finding a potential treatment for MERS-CoV."

Sixty-one people have been infected by the virus, leading to 34 deaths, according to the most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus can spread from person to person and causes severe respiratory illness.

The outbreak has been mostly confined to the Middle East, but cases have been identified in Britain, France and Italy, and the head of the World Health Organization called it "a threat to the entire world."

"While MERS-CoV appears to be more virulent than SARS, molecular scaffolds and design concepts that we developed against SARS are very beneficial and timely," Ghosh said. "Using our expertise in structure-based design and drug development, our team has already synthesized a number of specific MERS-CoV inhibitors."

Purdue students involved in the research are especially motivated to work on challenging targets that impact human health like MERS-CoV, Ghosh said. Graduate students Heather Osswald and Prasanth Nyalapatla in Ghosh's lab have been performing the synthesis of MERS-CoV inhibitors and graduate student Sakshi Tomar and undergraduate student Melanie Johnston in Mesecar's lab are testing the compounds against MERS-CoV.

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081,

Sources: Andrew Mesecar, 765-494-1924,

Arun Ghosh, 765-494-5323,

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