COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Despite what you may have heard, right now there is no drug that specifically treats coronavirus.
Around the world, night and day scientists are on the hunt for COVID-19 treatments, including the researchers at Texas A&M.
“So we are very close right now,” said Dr. Wenshe Liu with Texas A&M University. His team at the lab on the College Station campus are in the process of developing two new drugs they hope will treat the virus that’s wreaking havoc around the world.
Liu says it’s a two-pronged approach to stopping COVID-19. One drug kills an enzyme critical to the virus.
“If you block this enzyme’s activity the virus stops replicating,” said Liu.
Liu says this first yet-to-be-named drug is showing the most promise.
The second drug his lab is working on would interfere with a protein in the virus membrane which can block the virus entering the human cell, Liu said.
He and his team hope to get at least one of his drugs into the hands of clinicians quickly.
Chemistry phase, then clinical trials
"I want to finish the chemistry part in two months and after that I really need a clinician to pick up," said Liu.
He said the reason he is developing multiple drugs is because more than one will be needed to fight the virus.
"You get one drug available and after a while you see the virus mutate and it mutates it tends to be resistant against that drug and now you have to jump in and work on the second one," said Liu.
Liu and his team began working on these drugs long before COVID-19 became a problem in the U.S. In January, Liu and his colleagues were the first to recommend using Remdesivir as a treatment for novel coronavirus. Previously, in animal tests against SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar viruses, the drug helped prevent infection and reduced the severity of symptoms when given early enough in the course of illness.
At the same time that study was being published, Liu was looking ahead.
“So, that was the time we decided to jump on-board and I talked to my group members and I said I want you guys to pretty much stop what you’re doing right now and start making a new drug for the virus,” Liu said.
This work comes as doctors experiment with other treatments. Over the weekend, Houston Methodist saw the first transfusion of plasma from a COVID-19 survivor into a patient suffering from the virus.
"The idea is that that plasma may have parts of the immune system like antibodies against the COVID-19 virus that could potentially help patients that are currently sick with COVID-19," said Dr. Eric Salazar.
Liu says his and others’ work should also serve as a message that help is on the way.
“Please don’t lose hope, we are here to deliver the hope," he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should announce soon the results of the clinical trials involving the drug Remdesivir.
Clinical trials are also being fast-tracked for the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.
Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug often prescribed for the autoimmune disease lupus that has shown some potential to speed patients’ recovery in limited research but has not been shown to work against COVID-19 in any significant clinical trial.
Federal officials signed off on it for emergency use last week, clearing the way for it to be distributed to hospitals across the country.