Identified in 1967 among laboratory workers in Uganda who had handled infected animals, Marburg virus was the first of the class of viruses known as filoviruses – which also includes Ebola – to be identified.
The most lethal strain of Marburg emerged in 2004, resulting in an outbreak with a catastrophic fatality rate of 88%. The virus is known to have a mortality rate of up to 90%.
With the world still reeling from the Ebola epidemic of 2014, there is renewed interest in the deadly potential of filoviruses and what treatments may be effective against them.
Previously, researchers from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, had discovered the molecular structure used by the Marburg virus to attach itself to and enter host cells.
Key to defeating the virus is identifying vulnerable sites on the surface of the virus that antibodies can bind to. Studies have found that certain “cocktails” of antibodies can raise an alarm to the immune system and block Ebola virus from entering new cells, so scientists have been investigating similar approaches to tackle Marburg virus.
Earlier this year, the Scripps team reported some success at identifying antibodies effective against one site on Marburg in a study conducted in association with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. In the new study, the Scripps team designed proteins that elicited new antibodies effective against other sites on the virus.