Zee Media Bureau
Paris: Scientists have identified a protein within the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus that blocks further infection in cells.
Shibo Jiang at Fudan University in Shanghai and his colleagues found that a type of small protein, also known as a peptide, prevents the virus from fusing with human respiratory cells.
MERS-CoV enters into host cell mainly through membrane fusion mechanism and hijack its cellular machinery in order to reproduce.
The peptide, called heptad repeat 2 (HR2P), has "good potential" for development into a future drug against MERS.
So far, HR2P's effects have only been studied on cells in a lab dish and not yet on animals -- the next step in a long process to validate any new drug for safety and effectiveness.
The first case of MERS surfaced in Saudi Arabia April 2012.
It is considered a more virulent but less transmissible cousin of SARS, a so-called coronavirus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.
There have been 180 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS, including 77 deaths, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) toll issued on Tuesday.
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
(With Agency inputs)