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MERS Studies

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a growing global concern given its high fatality rate, killing nearly 40% of those infected. Global deployments to the Middle East and South Korea, coupled with close living quarters in those situations, increase MERS exposure risk for military personnel.

MERS is a severe respiratory disease akin to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS coronavirus (CoV) has infected more than 1,600 people. The most common symptoms of this disease are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Older people and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for severe disease and death. There are currently no approved vaccines or specific treatments for MERS.

First-in-Human Trial 

WRAIR executed a Phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate the safety and immune response of a vaccine candidate to prevent MERS. The study, conducted at the WRAIR Clinical Trials Center, evaluated a candidate DNA vaccine (GLS-5300) co-developed by GeneOne Life Science Inc. and Inovio Pharmaceuticals. Though other vaccine candidates had previously been tested for use in camels, which are the suspected source of the coronavirus which causes MERS (MERS-CoV), this vaccine wass the first to be tested in humans. 

In 2017, study results were published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases that showed the vaccine candidate was safe, well-tolerated, and induced a robust immune response. 

In the study, seventy-five healthy adult volunteers received one of three dosages of the candidate vaccine at three time points (initial, one month, three months) and were followed for one year after final vaccination. Vaccinations were given with an electrical impulse to help with vaccine uptake. Vaccine-induced immune responses were compared to those of individuals who had recovered from natural MERS CoV infection.

The GLS-5300 MERS CoV vaccine was well tolerated with no major side effects reported by the volunteers. More than 85 percent of volunteers exhibited a detectable immune response to MERS CoV after just two vaccinations. This immune response persisted throughout the study and was similar in magnitude to the response seen in survivors of natural MERS CoV infection.