FRIDAY April 19, 2013 – A treatment for a new coronavirus that has caused 11 deaths, mostly in the Middle East, shows promise in early tests, U.S. government researchers report.
The investigators discovered that a combination of two antiviral drugs — ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b — can stop the so-called nCoV coronavirus from multiplying in laboratory-grown cells. While the results suggest that this drug combination could be used to treat patients infected with nCoV, more research is needed to confirm these early findings.
Both drugs are approved in the United States for treating people with hepatitis C.
The nCoV coronavirus was first identified in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. As of April 16, 2013, there had been 17 reported cases, including 11 deaths. Most cases have occurred in the Middle East.
While the number of cases is small, there has been person-to-person transmission of the nCoV coronavirus in situations where people — mainly family members — have had close contact with infected people, the researchers noted in a news release from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
That, along with the high death rate, led the NIAID researchers to look for treatments. In laboratory tests using cells from two monkey species, the research team found that either ribavirin or interferon-alpha 2b alone could stop nCoV from replicating in the cells.
However, the drug concentrations needed to do this were higher than what is recommended for people. The researchers then combined the two drugs, and found that they were effective at a dose that can be used in people, according to the study in the April 18 issue of the journal Scientific Reports.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the nCoV coronavirus.