Promising Trial Drug May Block Covid-19

Sunday, April 5, 2020 - 11:59

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada have carried out a research which its results could be promising for the treatment of COVID-19 patients who are in the early stages of infection.

According to the Eurek Alert, researchers tested a drug that could potentially inhibit COVID-19 by reducing the coronavirus load that enters the lungs and other organs. The results of the study has been published in the journal Cell.

"Our study provides new insights into how SARS-CoV-2 infects the cells of the body, including in blood vessels and kidneys," says Ali Mirazimi, adjunct professor at the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Karolinska Institutet and one of the study's corresponding authors. "We hope that our results can contribute to the development of a novel drug treatment that can help patients with COVID-19."

The researchers used tissue samples from a patient with COVID-19 to isolate and cultivate SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19. In cell cultures, they were able to show how the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2 binds to a cell surface receptor called angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in order to enter our cells. It is the same mechanism that the original SARS-virus from 2003 used to bind to our cells, and which has been described by several of the researchers in previous studies.

By adding a genetically modified variant of this protein, called human recombinant soluble angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hrsACE2), the researchers wanted to test if the virus could be stopped from infecting the cells.

The result now published shows that hrsACE2 reduced viral growth of SARS-CoV-2 by a factor of 1,000 to 5,000 in cell cultures. The result was dose dependent, meaning it varied depending on the total amount of virus in relation to the total amount of hrsACE2. The authors were also able to verify these data from regular cell cultures in engineered miniature replicas of blood vessels and kidneys, so-called organoids grown from human stem cells.

"We believe adding this enzyme copy, hrsACE2, lures the virus to attach itself to the copy instead of the actual cells," Mirazimi says. "It distracts the virus from infecting the cells to the same degree and should lead to a reduction in the growth of the virus in the lungs and other organs."

The research has so far been limited to cell cultures and engineered miniature organs, but the biotech company Aperion Biologics, which develops the drug APN01 with the active substance, is planning to conduct a clinical pilot study on infected COVID-19 patients in China. The same drug has already been tested against lung disease in a clinical phase II study.

The researchers note that the current study only examined the drug's effect during the initial stages of infection and that further research is needed to determine if it is also effective during later stages of disease development.

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