COVID vaccine supply issues are gradually being overcome and now news of two new virus-fighting drugs gives more cause for optimism.
The Queensland scientists involved believe the drugs will aid both prevention and recovery, and shape as weapons against future variants of the virus.
The peptide-based drugs are designed to prevent COVID infection and slow the spread of the virus within already infected cells. Both target how cells in the body respond to the virus, rather than the virus itself.
Scientists from Queensland’s QIMC Berghofer Medical Research Institute believe the new drugs will bolster the effectiveness of the existing COVID-19 vaccines and will be able to slow, and eventually stop, the spread of the virus.
The first drug is not strictly a vaccine but would be given to boost the efficacy of the existing vaccines. It works by mimicking a receptor protein, called the ACE2 protein, that COVID uses to enter cells. The virus attaches itself to the decoy proteins and can’t enter the cell.
The second is designed as a treatment for those with COVID and would stop the virus from replicating. It also boosts the immune system’s ability to recognise the virus.
Researchers say they were able to develop the drugs after noting that some people have a ‘chemical tag’ on their ACE2 proteins that acts like a padlock controlling access to individual cells.
“The tag can either keep the receptor locked or open – controlling infection. This means people who have the ‘padlock-like’ tag on their ACE2 receptors will be less susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and those without the tag are more vulnerable to infection,” says Professor Sudha Rao, senior researcher on the project.
“Our drugs stop the tag from being removed and also protect the untagged ACE2 receptors from being infected.”
The drugs are undergoing clinical trials in France at the nation’s top drug-testing facility IDMIT, where researchers say the drugs could be a key to fighting any new COVID variants.
“Many of the drugs being developed around the world to treat COVID-19 are targeted at people with severe disease,” says IDMIT tester Professor Nabila Seddiki.
“However, these peptide-based drugs are aimed at preventing infection in the first place, and at reducing the severity of the disease before it really takes hold.
“These drugs could also be very important because they may provide the protection we need for emerging variants and be used to protect the small group of people who cannot be vaccinated.”
The drugs were developed by scientists from Queensland’s QIMC Berghofer Medical Research Institute with funding from the Queensland government. The state’s health minister, Yvette D’Ath, praised the research, saying it was something about which the whole state could be proud.
“Just over a year ago, we knew very little about this disease and it’s amazing that Queensland researchers have been able to develop these potential new drugs in such a short time,” Ms D’Ath says.
“All Queenslanders can be proud of [the research] team’s hard work and commitment to finding new weapons against this pandemic disease that continues to destroy lives around the world.”
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