SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) has been a major killer in the last two years in July 2003; SARS had killed 774 people worldwide and infected a further 8,000. A collaborative group of researchers from China, Germany, Denmark and Poland have spent the past year screening more than 8,000 existing drugs to find those that could combat SARS and now have identified 15 existing drugs that have the potential to kill the virus that causes SARS. This three-year research collaboration is funded by the European Commission and was launched in 2004 to identify 50 compounds that have the potential to treat SARS.
A paper published last month by the group in the Journal of Virology showed one such compound called Cinanserin can stop the SARS virus from replicating. Interestingly cinanserin, was approved in the United States for clinical use in the 1960s to treat schizophrenia and other psychopathic diseases. Shen one of the researchers said that: 'cinanserin could not form a SARS treatment on its own, but would need to be used in combination with other drugs'. As it is an old safe and cheap drug, it could be used widely for SARS patients in the developing world.
China is also working on vaccines against SARS epidemics. The first phase trials have already been completed in December and the second phase is to start soon as per a news release on 29 June.