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Experimental Drug Could Be New Weapon Against Argentine Hemorrhagic Fever

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Scientists have found an experimental drug that could be used against a potentially fatal infection, the Argentine Hemorrhagic Fever. The pathogen that causes this disease, Junin virus, is considered a bioterror threat.

Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch and Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc, along with other partners, have discovered that a laboratory-engineered antibody could provide full protection against the deadly virus.

It is still unclear when the treatment, which is based on lab experiments using guinea pigs, would be used in human trials.

Like the Ebola virus, there is still no treatment for the Argentine Hemorrhagic Fever, the researchers said. Thus, it is important to find a drug that could fight the virus.

The only available means to treat the infection is through plasma transfusion from someone who survived it. Though this treatment option is deemed effective, the resources are scarce and, in case an outbreak would emerge, the supply could fall short.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., one of the companies that also developed the drug to fight the Ebola virus, is engineering the new experimental drug, a monoclonal antibody. Monoclonal antibodies are designed to latch onto a target, like a virus or a cancer cell.

In the study, the team described the efficacy of three monoclonal antibodies received by guinea pigs after two days of taking in a lethal dose of Junin.

Dubbed as J199, the monoclonal antibody was isolated from rats exposed to a Junin protein. It was then genetically modified to make it more like a human antibody that would eventually capture the virus.

All the laboratory animals that received one of the three antibodies were able to survive throughout the entire study. In the other group where J199 was used, the animals were protected from the disease. The control group, the animals that were not given any treatment, died within two weeks of infection.

"What makes the study unique is that we observed complete protection against death even when treatment was delayed six days after Junin virus infection when animals were showing signs of disease," said Thomas Geisbert, lead author of the study.

Giesbert added that the discovery of a new antibody therapy against the killer virus is a big step in developing new treatments to be used in patients.

The Junin virus is a member of the family Arenaviridae. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Arenaviridae family is carried by rodents and can be transmitted to humans. The U.S. government enlists the Junin virus as a potential bioterror weapon.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Photo: Daniel R. Blume | Flickr 

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