It’s just like a movie – a mysterious and deadly virus emerges from the jungle; there’s no cure and no vaccine. Researchers try a highly experimental treatment made from human serum, and it works.
But this story is from real life – a team of experts say that an experimental treatment protected monkeys from Hendra virus. Hendra and a related virus called Nipah are both linked to tropical fruit bats, and they can kill people.
The treatment, called m102.4, is an engineered version of a human immune-system protein called an antibody.
The researchers, working in a special safety lab, infected 14 African green monkeys with a lethal dose of Hendra virus. They treated 12 of the monkeys with m102.4, either 10, 24, or 72 hours after being infected, with a second dose 48 hours later. All 12 monkeys treated with the antibody survived, the scientists reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The two untreated monkeys died.
“I think this is a very promising therapy, especially when you consider that it was still strong three days later,” Thomas Geisbert of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, who helped develop the treatment, said in a statement.
“What’s also interesting is that this antibody has strong activity against Nipah virus as well, which is extremely similar to Hendra.”
Hendra virus was first reported in Australia in 1994, spreading from horses to their trainers. A 12-year-old girl and her mother were treated with the experimental antibody last year after their horse died from Hendra. Although the pair were not sick when treated, the antibody appeared safe, and they never got sick. Hendra causes acute respiratory distress syndrome and encephalitis – a brain inflammation -- and kills more than 75 percent of the people who become infected.
Hendra is now a serious problem in Australia, with 18 outbreaks among horses in Queensland and New South Wales since June.
Nipah virus emerged in 1998 in Malaysia, and also has been found in Bangladesh and India. Nipah appears to infect humans more easily than Hendra and can be transmitted from person to person, according to the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which paid for the study. The World Health Organization says that 475 people were infected with Nipah through 2008, and 251 of them died – a 52 percent death rate.
“These findings are really quite promising and appear to offer a real potential treatment for Hendra virus infection in people,” Christopher Broder of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., who helped develop the treatment, said in a statement.
“There are no other known or effective therapeutic options for Hendra virus infection. “
If the virus names sound familiar to moviegoers, it’s because an imaginary combination of Hendra and Nipah are the basis for the virus in the film Contagion, currently in cinemas. Infectious -disease experts consulted on the film.