UBC at forefront of possible COVID-19 treatment

Trial drug in virus fight found

A trial drug that could aid in the fight against COVID-19 has been found.

The discovery was made by an international team of researchers, led by University of British Columbia researcher Dr. Josef Penninger.

Dr. Penninger is a research chair in functional genetics at UBC in Vancouver.

The findings, published Thursday in Cell, outline a trial drug which effectively blocks the cellular door SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, uses to infect its hosts.

“We are hopeful our results have implications for the development of a novel drug for the treatment of this unprecedented outbreak,” says Dr. Penninger.

“This work stems from an amazing collaboration among academic researchers and companies, including STEMCELL Technologies in Vancouver, Nuria Montserrat in Spain, Drs. Haibo Zhang and Art Slutsky from Toronto and Ali Mirazimi’s infectious biology team in Sweden, who have been working tirelessly day and night for weeks to better understand the pathology of this disease and to provide breakthrough therapeutic options.”

While the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread around the globe, the absence of a clinically proven antiviral therapy specifically targeting the critical SARS-CoV-2 receptor ACE2 on a molecular level has meant there is no vaccine for health care providers struggling to treat severe cases of COVID-19.

“Our new study provides direct evidence that a drug — called APN01 (human recombinant soluble angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 – hrsACE2) — soon to be tested in clinical trials by the European biotech company Apeiron Biologics, is useful as an antiviral therapy for COVID-19,” says Dr. Slutsky.

“The virus causing COVID-19 is a close sibling to the first SARS virus,” adds Dr. Penninger.

“Our previous work has helped to rapidly identify ACE2 as the entry gate for SARS-CoV-2, which explains a lot about the disease. Now we know that a soluble form of ACE2 could be indeed a very rational therapy that specifically targets the gate the virus must take to infect us.

"There is hope for this horrible outbreak.”

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