Thousands of lab monkeys infected with coronavirus in bid to find vaccine

Lab monkeys have been infected with a deadly strain of coronavirus in a bid to find a vaccine to halt the disease's path.

Rhesus macaques have been infected with the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS- Cov) and then given an experimental antiviral vaccine.

More than 2,400 of the animals have been infected with the disease by scientists, The Daily Star reported.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control estimates that the particular strain has already killed 910 humans.

Symptoms of MERS include fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath, with pneumonia, organ failure and septic shock often caused by the disease.

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Around 35% of those who contract it die, the World Health Organisation has said.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the vaccine stopped macaques contracting the disease when used in a preventative manner.

Scientists now hopeful they can trial it with the COVID-19 strain of the disease, which is part of the same family of viruses.

Several clinical trials of remdesivir for COVID-19 are believed to be under way in China, while some humans are thought to have taken the experimental drug in a bid to recover.

The macaques study had one group of primates, housed at a lab in Hamilton, Montana, receive the drug 24 hours before infection with MERS-CoV.

Another group were given the vaccine some 12 hours after infection and another control group did not receive any treatment.

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They were then observed for six days, and those treated a day in advance showed no symptoms.

The animals which were treated after infection had less damage done to their lungs than the control animals.

The scientists argue the results of the study acts as support for further clinical trials of remdesivir for COVID-19.

That particular strain has so far claimed 2,400 lives worldwide, with the figure rising every day.

In a statement NIH said: "MERS-CoV is closely related to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has grown to be a global public health emergency since cases were first detected in Wuhan, China, in December.

"Remdesivir has previously protected animals against a variety of viruses in lab experiments. The drug has been shown experimentally to effectively treat monkeys infected with Ebola and Nipah viruses.

"The scientists indicate that the promising study results support additional clinical trials of remdesivir for MERS-CoV and 2019-nCoV.

"At least two clinical trials of remdesivir for 2019-nCoV are under way in China, and other patients with 2019-nCoV infection have received the drug under a compassionate use protocol."

It is thought that MERS originated in camels and was then transmitted to people.

Transmission from person to person is believed to be possible.

So far most of the cases are centered in the Middle East, but some have been reported in the US and UK.

The UK's RSPCA estimates thousands of monkeys, mainly macaques and marmosets, are used in research and testing.

RSPCA say: "In the UK, around 3,000 monkeys are used annually. Much of this use is to develop and test the safety and effectiveness of potential human medicines and vaccines.

"Primates are also used for studying how the brain functions and in research relating to human reproduction."

In the US a record 71,317 monkeys were used in labs in 2010 and a similar number were tested on in 2018, when 70,797 monkeys were used.

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