Researchers at the University of Alberta are preparing to launch clinical trials of a drug used to cure a deadly disease caused by a coronavirus in cats that they expect will also be effective as a treatment for humans against COVID-19.
“In just two months, our results have shown that the drug is effective at inhibiting viral replication in cells with SARS-CoV-2,” said Joanne Lemieux, a professor of biochemistry in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.
“This drug is very likely to work in humans, so we’re encouraged that it will be an effective antiviral treatment for COVID-19 patients.”
The drug is a protease inhibitor that interferes with the virus’s ability to replicate, thus ending an infection. Proteases are key to many body functions and are common targets for drugs to treat everything from high blood pressure to cancer and HIV.
First studied by U of A chemist John Vederas and biochemist Michael James following the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the protease inhibitor was further developed by veterinary researchers who showed it cures a disease that is fatal in cats.
The work to test the drug against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was a co-operative effort between four U of A laboratories, run by Lemieux, Vederas, biochemistry professor Howard Young and the founding director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, Lorne Tyrrell. Some of the experiments were carried out by the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource Structural Molecular Biology program.