Pulse 160: Repurposing Existing Drugs for COVID-19

14 July 2020
Giulio Prisco

Test Tubes

Scientists worldwide continue their push to develop effective treatments and a vaccine for the highly contagious COVID-19. A press release issued by University of South Florida suggests that existing compounds could block the replication of the virus. And repurposing existing drugs that contain these compounds could be the most effective way to fight the virus.

"With a rapidly emerging infectious disease like COVID-19, we don't have time to develop new antiviral drugs from scratch," said University of South Florida researcher Yu Chen. "A lot of good drug candidates are already out there as a starting point. But, with new information from studies like ours and current technology, we can help design even better (repurposed) drugs much faster."

Promising drug candidates include the FDA-approved hepatitis C medication boceprevir and an investigational veterinary antiviral drug known as GC-376.

Existing Drugs Block Coronavirus Replication in Lab

Researchers at University of South Florida and University of Arizona have identified several existing compounds that block replication of the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) within human cells grown in the laboratory.

A study published in Cell Research reports that the compounds all demonstrated potent chemical and structural interactions with a viral protein critical to the virus' ability to proliferate.

Safer CRISPR Decreases Risk of Off-Target Editing

Scientists led by Wenzhou Medical University have shown that mutating the enzyme at the heart of the CRISPR gene editing system can improve its accuracy. This strongly reduces the risk of off-target gene editing.

The research results were published in PLOS Biology. They may provide a therapeutically safer strategy for gene editing than using the unmodified enzyme system.

Avoidance of off-target editing is a crucial challenge for medical applications of CRISPR. Applications may include correcting genetic diseases or targeting cancer cells.

Preclinical Studies Raise Hope for Cancer Vaccine

Scientists at Translational Research Institute and University of Queensland are ready to trial a new cancer vaccine in humans following the successful outcome of their preclinical studies.

The new vaccine is described in a study published in Clinical & Translational Immunology. It is based on human antibodies fused with tumor-specific proteins.

The scientists are persuaded that the vaccine is a major breakthrough for cancer vaccinations. They believe it has potential to treat a variety of blood cancers and solid cancers.

Nanoparticles Induce Cancer Regression

Penn State researchers have developed a new method to treat cancer. It uses nanoparticles that are able to prevent cancer cells from creating proteins. The proteins are essential for cancer cells to survive. The nanoparticles are delivered to a localized cancerous area and activated through light exposure.

A study published in Biomaterials reports that the researchers injected the nanoparticles into tumors in mice. Once the nanoparticles built up in the cancerous area, the researchers used a specific wavelength of light for activation. The cancer in about 20 mice completely regressed within 24 to 48 hours and did not regrow.

New Air Filter Fills SARS-CoV-2 Virus

Researchers led by University of Houston have designed a 'catch and kill' air filter that can trap and instantly kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.

A study was published in Materials Today Physics. It reports that 99.8 percent of the virus was killed in a single pass through the filter. It was made from commercially available nickel foam, heated to 200 degrees Centigrade, or about 392 degrees Fahrenheit. The filter also killed 99.9 percent of anthrax spore.

Nanoparticles for Eye Diseases

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have successfully used nanoparticles to deliver gene therapy for blinding eye disease to laboratory rats and mice. The researchers engineered a large molecule that allows compact large bundles of therapeutic DNA to be delivered into the cells of the eye.

A paper was published in Science Advances. It provides evidence of the potential value of nanoparticle-delivered gene therapy to treat age-related macular degeneration. It also provides evidence of treatment for more rare diseases of the retina.

Artificial Genes as Biosensors for Monitoring Cells

Researchers at Boston University have developed and implemented a new method to study how cellular communications are disrupted in human diseases and how this can be corrected pharmacologically.

The new method was described in a paper published in Cell. It is based on a suite of biosensors. They are artificial genes that can be introduced in cells to report in real time when an important group of signaling molecules is turned on. This enables, for example, sensing cellular responses to drugs.

The researchers used molecular engineering to create their biosensors by borrowing parts from existing genes.

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