A team of researchers at the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta, Canada are preparing to kick start clinical trials of a drug used to cure a killer disease caused by a coronavirus in cats. There are high hopes that the drug may be an effective treatment option for humans against Covid-19.
According to Joanne Lemieux, a professor of biochemistry in the faculty, “In just two months, our results have shown that the drug is effective at inhibiting viral replication in cells with SARS-CoV-2.” She added that “this drug is very likely to work in humans, so we are encouraged that it will be an effective antiviral treatment for Covid-19 patients.”
The drug, a dipeptide-based protease inhibitor, interferes with the virus's ability to replicate and infect. Proteases are vital to a lot of body functions and are common targets for several drugs, including those against chronic diseases such as HIV, hypertension, cancer, and many others.
Preliminary studies on the drug were first undertaken by the University of Alberta chemist John Vederas and biochemist Michael James in response to the 2003 outbreak of SARS. The researchers developed the protease inhibitor and discovered that it was effective in treating a disease that is potentially deadly in cats.
Efforts to test the drug against the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was a collaboration between four University of Alberta’s laboratories, run by Lemieux, Vederas, the founding director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, Lorne Tyrell and biochemistry professor Howard Young. A number of the experiments were undertaken by the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource Structural Molecular Biology programs.
Their findings were published on August 27, 2020, in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications after initially being posted on BioRxIV, a research website.
“There is a rule with COVID research that all results need to be made public immediately,” Lemieux said, which is why they were posted on the research website before being peer-reviewed.
The researchers also partnered with Anivive Life Sciences, a veterinary medicine company that is developing the drug for cats, to produce the quantity and quality of drug needed for human clinical trials. Lemieux confirmed the drug would likely undergo clinical trials in Alberta in combination with other promising antivirals such as remdesivir, the first treatment approved for conditional use in countries like Canada and the United States.
The research was funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, Alberta Innovates, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, GSK Chair in Virology and Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology.