Skip to main content

Promising Treatment for New Human Coronavirus

Posted on by

In Fall 2012 a new coronavirus appeared on the global public health radar. The virus has caused 17 cases of severe respiratory disease in the Middle East and Europe, and 11 of these people died. This new virus attracted immediate attention because of the high fatality rate—and because it was in the same family as the virus that caused the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, which sickened more than 8,000 people.

A team here at the virus ecology unit at NIAID got a sample of the virus, called nCoV, from The Netherlands in November. By December they had developed an animal model to study how the virus behaved and caused illness. Now, just a few months later, they report that two antiviral drugs, ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b, will stop nCoV from replicating in cells grown in the lab.

Clearly more studies are needed to figure out whether the treatment will translate to humans, but it’s an important first step. That’s virus to treatment in about four months—pretty impressive.


Inhibition of novel β coronavirus replication by a combination of interferon-α2b and ribavirin. Falzarano D, de Wit E, Martellaro C, Callison J, Munster VJ, Feldmann H. Sci Rep. 2013 Apr 18;3:1686.

Pneumonia from Human Coronavirus in a Macaque Model. Munster VJ, de Wit E, Feldmann H. N Engl J Med. 2013 Apr 18;368(16):1560-1562. Epub 2013 Apr 3. 

NIH support: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases