By Stephanie Stahl

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Researchers in Philadelphia are developing a potential vaccine for the deadly MERS virus, and the technology could eventually lead to a better flu vaccine.

Health officials continue to say the risk is low, but the MERS virus has killed 171 people overseas and there are three cases in the United States. Doctors say there is no treatment, but that could change soon.

They’re too tiny to see without a microscope, but special t-cells could be the beginning of the end of the MERS virus.

Scientists have created an immune response, a potential vaccine, for the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

“It’s a very unique and rapid approach, and it only it takes a very short time,” said David Weiner, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.  He’s helping to develop the MERS treatment, and it’s being done much faster than other vaccines because instead of working with live virus, which is dangerous and time consuming, he’s created a synthetic MERS virus, made on a computer.

“You don’t need a virus to make a vaccine,” said Joseph Kim, the CEO of Inovio Pharmaceuticals.  He has partnered with Penn in creating the MERS vaccine, which has so far worked in lab animals.

“This could be in human testing in a matter of six months or less.  Now if there’s a huge pandemic obviously we can go even faster,” said Kim.

“I’m very excited about the science that’s led to this and the demonstration that we can produce this very quickly,” said Weiner.

The technology, using synthetic virus, is also being applied to  a number of other treatments, including influenza.

“We’re developing potentially a universal flu vaccine that can protect you from multiple strains,” said Kim

While the preliminary research has been very promising, it still has to be proved to be safe and effective in humans.  That could take years.


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