University of Iowa-led Preclinical Study Develops Successful MERS Vaccine in Mice: Does it Hold Promise for a COVID-19 Vaccine?

University of Iowa-led Preclinical Study Develops Successful MERS Vaccine in Mice Does it Hold Promise for a COVID-19 vaccine

Researchers from the University of Iowa and the University of Georgia formed a collaborative alliance to develop a laboratory-made virus that can be potentially employed to target coronaviruses. To date, the two institutions have executed tests with the MERS corona virus infected with mice. SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the COVID-19 global pandemic, is now in their crosshairs.


The University of Iowa and University of Georgia team developed a vaccine that uses a harmless dog virus to deliver a MERS coronavirus protein into cells to produce an immune response. They suspect that the findings may represent potential for developing vaccines against other coronaviruses, starting with SARS-COV-2.

Led by Paul McCray, MD, from the University of Iowa College of Medicine, and Biao He, PhD, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, the team investigated a MERS vaccine candidate in mice engineered to be susceptible to the MERS coronavirus. Known as innocuous parainfluenza virus (PIV5) carrying the “spike” protein that MERS uses to infect cells, the team discovered that the vaccinated mice survived lethal doses of the MERS coronavirus. These findings were published recently in the journal mBio

Lead Researcher Comments on Results

Paul McCray, MD, University of Iowa, shared, “The study shows that the PIV5-based intranasal vaccine is effective against MERS in mice and should be tested for its potential against other dangerous coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. We are keen to use viruses as a vehicle for the Gene delivery,”

Factors Making this Approach Appealing

The Iowa and Georgia team observed a number of factors, suggesting PIV5 expressing a coronavirus spike protein makes sense as a platform for vaccine development against emerging coronaviruses. They include: 1) PIV5 can infect many different animals, including humans, without causing disease. For instance, PIV5 is under investigation as a vaccine for other respiratory diseases, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza. 2), a close vaccine was sufficient to protect mice could be beneficial for creating enough vaccine for mass immunization, and 3) the vaccine in the current research represented the most promising MERS vaccine to date in animal models of the disease.


  • National Institutes of Health grant
  • Cystic Fibrosis Foundation grant
  • Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust (supports McCray)
  • Biao He, supported by Fred C. Davison endowment

Patents/IP & CyanVac LLC

Biao He, via the University of Georgia, is inventor and patent holder of “Parainfluenza virus 5-based vaccines.” The University of Georgia Research Foundation (UGARF) owns the patent. CyanVac LLC, founded by Professor He, has licensed the IP from UGARF for the development of the vaccines.

Lead Research/Investigators

Paul McCray, MD, University of Iowa College of Medicine

Biao He, PhD, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine


    1. Hi John,
      We can look into this. Note the owner of the patent is Professor Biao He, PhD, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
      We will see what we can find.
      Best Regards,