International team finds trial drug that blocks early COVID-19 infection

April 13, 2020

A trial drug that appears to block the cellular door SARS-CoV-2 – the virus responsible for COVID-19 – uses to infect its hosts has been identified by a team of researchers from Canada, Spain and Sweden. The drug could very well stop early infection of the novel coronavirus and provide important information as to how the virus can infect other organs such as blood vessels and kidneys.

University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, researcher Dr. Josef Penninger said the novel coronavirus is a close sibling to the first SARS virus, which caused aviral respiratory illness and was recognised as a global threat back in 2003. However, Penninger claims that “there is hope for this horrible pandemic.”

The UBC professor earlier identified a protein on the surface of the cell membrane which is a key receptor for SARS. Penninger’s laboratory went on to link the protein to both cardiovascular disease and lung failure.

Recently, a drug (human recombinant soluble angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 – hrsACE2) has been found to react with that critical receptor i.e. SARS-CoV-2 receptor ACE2. Clinical-grade hrsACE2 can also significantly “inhibit the coronavirus load in engineered human tissues,” specifically replicas of human blood vessels and kidneys grown from human stem cells. The coronavirus can directly infect and duplicate itself in these tissues, thus hinting at why severe cases of COVID-19 present with multi-organ failure and some cardiovascular damage.

“Using the replicas, or organoids, allows us to test treatments in a very agile way. Human organoids save the time that we would spend to test a new drug in the human setting,” explains Núria Montserrat, a professor at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia in Spain.

Penninger concludes, “Our previous work has helped to identify ACE2 as the entry gate for SARS-CoV-2; now we know that a soluble form of ACE2 could form a very rational therapy that primarily targets the gate the virus must take to infect us.”


Category: Features, Pharmaceuticals

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