New drug being considered in fight against COVID-19

Medical Watch

On the Medical Watch — a new weapon in the quest to get ahead in the battle against COVID-19.

One drug was identified by researchers at the University of Chicago. But they are not stopping there, with help from scientists at Argonne National Laboratory they are rapidly combing through all medications that could have power over SARS-CoV-2 and now they are turning to drug companies to launch clinical trials with COVID-19 patients.

“I remember thinking February thinking this was going to be a major problem and many of us all over the world started to do whatever we could to help understand this disease,” Juan de Pablo, University of Chicago professor of molecular engineering, said.

Fast forward to September and de Pablo went one step further —understanding and applying knowledge to identify a viable medication.

“It is reassuring to realize you have all of this knowledge all of these resources and you are not sitting idle you are trying to do something to help control the disease,” he said.

Looking at earlier studies in China, the first candidate was tested. Ebselen, a drug originally developed to treat bipolar disorder.

And when it comes to COVID-19, it targeted both virus replication and body reaction.

“We did not expect that to happen but it is an effective mechanism by which the drug might interfere with the function of the enzyme,” de Pablo said.

Targeting enzymes and proteins in the virus is the key to unlock a possible cure.

“You can think of the shape of the protein as being the lock and the drug we are trying to hook up to that protein is the key, so by using the X-ray microscope, the advanced photon source, to look at the shape of that lock, protein, that gives us a lot of insight into how we can design a key that will fit into that lock,” Dr. Stephen Streiffer, Argonne National Laboratory, deputy laboratory director for science and technology and director of the advanced photon source, said.

Enter this massive microscope. The overhead view shows a tool that can fit Chicago’s Wrigley Field inside it. Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory used the advanced photon source to look for a way to penetrate and destroy virus structure. They inspected billions of compounds.

“We can take basically every drug that’s ever been developed and do that screening in the computer and try and do a first pass to identify which ones may have a beneficial effect,” Streiffer said.

After two months running computational studies, Argonne experts whittled down potential COVID-19 drug candidates to five.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel never in the face of an epidemic like this has the scientific community and the pharmaceutical community reacted so quickly and effectively in being able to create treatments in a few months. I hope people can hold on a little longer but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Streiffer said.

Argonne scientists are not only working on identifying drugs — they’re researching alternate antivirals, antibodies, even new materials for face masks.

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