Press Release

IPK discusses MERS/Ebola research status and Korea’s response strategies against infectious diseases

Pangyo, Gyeonggi, November 2, 2015| During a press conference held at Korea Press Center on November 2, 2015; Institut Pasteur Korea (IPK, CEO: Dr. Hakim Djaballah) addressed the current research status on MERS and Ebola virus infections as well as future strategies to tackle potential public health threat triggered by either MERS and/or Ebola virus infections.
Dr. Ji-Young Min, Head of the Respiratory Viruses Research Laboratory at Institut Pasteur Korea and an expert on respiratory viruses commented, “Considering recent report from Saudi Arabia on the reoccurrence of MERS patients, there is a possibility of having additional MERS outbreak in Korea”. She added that IPK obtained the recent MERS-CoV isolate from Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) and embarked in the identification of novel small molecule drugs to treat MERS by blocking MERS-CoV entry, replication or release.
She also stated that sequence alignment of the 2015 MERS-CoV with the virus isolated from Saudi Arabia in 2012 revealed mutations in 43 amino acids, suggesting that the development of universal MERS vaccine could be a challenge. Therefore our current effort to identify small molecule therapeutic agents may complement the vaccine strategy to tackle MERS.
“It is a question of time for Ebola reaching the Korean peninsula” said Dr. Marc P. Windisch, Head of the Hepatitis Research Laboratory. “Global warming significantly expands the territory of the fruit bat, the virus natural host, to the northern hemisphere. In addition, globalization, heavy air travel, will significantly increase the risks of emergent infectious diseases.” 
According to the WHO data, China already documented Ebola virus infections in pigs, however no human cases have been reported yet. “My team is actively working on the identification of potential Ebola virus interventions by utilizing a state-of-the-art cell culture system for Ebola developed by the US NIH. The system will accelerate the identification of new drugs, because it enables screening for small molecule inhibitors in a low biosafety level containment, meaning no authentic virus is being produced” commented Dr. Windisch. Small molecules with the appropriate pharmacological profile will be tested against authentic virus infection in BSL-4 facilities in the US, France, Germany or Australia.
“Learning from MERS experience in Korea; immediate and complete isolation of suspected patients is a key step in containing an outbreak of a deadly pathogen.  Equally important, understanding the routes of transmission is critical to completely block further spread of deadly viruses. Accordingly, these key elements should be considered in surveillance programs to manage and control infectious diseases” said Dr. Mohamed Hachicha, Executive Director of Discovery Biology Division. With respect to the identification of new mutations in the Korean MERS-CoV isolate; he added “Vaccine strategy may be limited by the genomic changes of the virus and alternative strategies should be considered to prevent and treat if the universal vaccine strategy fails to protect infected patients” Therefore, IPK is leveraging its proprietary discovery biology platforms in concert with the Institut Pasteur network to develop new small molecule therapeutics to treat infectious diseases. Dr. Hachicha also mentioned, “If engaged IPK is here to help Korea by deploying Institut Pasteur international task force to contain deadly viruses and avoid public health treat”.
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About Institut Pasteur Korea
Institut Pasteur Korea, located in Pangyo, was founded in 2004. It is a private institution devoted to discovery biology for infectious diseases. IPK’s unique translational capabilities and small molecule intervention technology make it possible to rapidly address unmet global health needs through diagnostics for detection and prevention. IPK strives to have fostering collaborations, partnerships, and educational outreach to share its knowledge and research know-how.
Institut Pasteur Korea is a member of the Institut Pasteur International Network, which brings together 33 institutes located in 29 countries, united by the same mission, culture, and values. Leveraging vast human and scientific community, the Network is involved in international research projects, public health, teaching and training programs. By its diversity and global presence, the Institut Pasteur International Network aims to respond, in an innovative way, to international public health issues and priorities.