Researchers are preparing to launch clinical trials to investigate a drug used to cure a fatal coronavirus found in cats, which they hope will also be effective against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The drug is a protease inhibitor that interferes with viral replication, thus ending an infection. According to a press release from researchers based at the University of Alberta, the drug was first investigated following the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak and was further developed by veterinary researchers. The new work testing the drug against COVID-19 was published in Nature Communications.

Investigators first synthesized the compounds before testing them against SARS-CoV-2 in test tubes and human cell lines. Based on these findings, the investigators then revealed the crystal structure of the drug as it binds with the protein, which they said will enable them to develop even more effective drugs.

“In just 2 months, our results have shown that the drug is effective at inhibiting viral replication in cells with SARS-CoV-2,” said investigator Joanne Lemieux, PhD, MSc, in a press release. “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.”

Lemieux added that the team will continue to test modification of the inhibitor, but said the current drug shows enough action against SARS-CoV-2 to proceed immediately to clinical trials.

“Typically for a drug to go into clinical trials, it has to be confirmed in the lab and then tested in animal models,” she said. “Because this drug has already been used to treat cats with coronavirus, and it’s effective with little to no toxicity, it’s already passed those stages, and this allows us to move forward. Because of the strong data that we and others have gathered, we’re pursuing clinical trials for this drug as an antiviral for COVID-19.”

The investigators have begun collaborating with Anivive Life Sciences, a veterinary medicine company that is developing the drug for cats, to produce the quality and quantity necessary for human clinical trials. Lemieux said it will likely be tested in Alberta in combination with other investigational antivirals, such as remdesivir.

REFERENCE
Rutherford G. Antiviral used to treat cat coronavirus also works against SARS-CoV-2: U of A researchers. Folio; August 27, 2020. https://www.folio.ca/antiviral-used-to-treat-cat-coronavirus-also-works-against-sars-cov-2-u-of-a-researchers/. Accessed August 31, 2020.