A new study has found that a trial drug effectively blocks the early stages of COVID-19.
The drug treatment, called APN01, holds promise for stopping the early infection of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, which has affected more than 981,000 people to date.
An international team of researchers, led by University of British Columbia researcher Dr Josef Penninger, published its findings in the journal Cell, showing that the trial drug effectively blocks the cellular door SARS-CoV-2 uses to infect its hosts.
The study provides new insights into key aspects of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and its interactions on a cellular level, as well as how the virus can infect blood vessels and kidneys.
Treatment hopes for COVID-19
ACE2. Which is a protein on the surface of the cell membrane, is now at centre-stage in this outbreak as the key receptor for the spike glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2.
In earlier work, Penninger and colleagues at the University of Toronto and the Institute of Molecular Biology in Vienna first identified ACE2, and found that in living organisms, ACE2 is the key receptor for SARS, the viral respiratory illness recognised as a global threat in 2003. His laboratory also went on to link the protein to both cardiovascular disease and lung failure.
Penninger, professor in UBC’s faculty of medicine, director of the Life Sciences Institute and the Canada 150 Research Chair in Functional Genetics at UBC, said: “We are hopeful our results have implications for the development of a novel drug for the treatment of this unprecedented pandemic.”
Currently, the absence of a clinically proven antiviral therapy or a treatment specifically targeting the critical SARS-CoV-2 receptor ACE2 on a molecular level has meant an empty arsenal for health care providers struggling to treat severe cases of COVID-19.
The study provides direct evidence that the drug is useful as antiviral therapy for the disease and is set to be tested in clinical trials by the European biotech company Apeiron Biologics.
Penninger said: “The virus causing COVID-19 is a close sibling to the first SARS virus. 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 that catches the virus away, 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 pandemic.”