New Treatment For COVID-19 On The Horizon

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New Treatment For COVID-19 On The Horizon

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Research scientists experimenting with mice have discovered a new “highly potent” compound that is extremely effective in preventing and treating COVID-19 generated by the Delta variant and all its later variants, including Omicron BA.2.

The breakthrough compound, which is known as N-0385 and is delivered via a nasal spray, is believed to be the first of its kind proven to deliver effective treatment and prevention against all the alpha, beta, gamma, and delta variants.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, who collaborated with scientists from Canada’s Université de Sherbrooke and Cornell University in the United States, say their discovery opens the door for a future therapeutic nasal spray for use in humans that potentially treats both coronaviruses and the flu and future virus strains.

The discovery comes on the back of recent news that the most recent COVID-19 variants have reduced vaccine effectiveness and offer hope for a reinvigorated prevention and treatment regime.

Furthermore, Dr Francois Jean, one of the team’s senior scientists and an associate professor at UBC, says further unpublished results from his team show promise that the compound is also effective at blocking Omicron variant infections in human lung cells.

“Our unpublished results represent encouraging findings with the current rapid propagation of Omicron BA.2 around the world,” says Dr Jean.

“Unfortunately, with another wave of an Omicron variant hitting the United Kingdom, Europe, and China and our knowledge of how these waves occur, this may be what we see [around the world] in the near future.

“Once approved, this compound could be used in combination with already available drugs that inhibit the virus’ replication, to provide a stronger defense against COVID-19 variants of concern,” says Dr. Jean, founder of FINDER, the ultramodern biocontainment facility where work on SARS-CoV-2 variants was conducted.

Dr Francois Jean

The N-0385 compound, a small molecule developed by a team at the Université de Sherbrooke, blocks a particular human enzyme’s activity, used by the virus to infect a host cell.

UBC researchers tested four variants, including Delta, in human lung cells and other materials known as organoids, which are tissue cultures that imitate the organ they’re taken from, and found that N-0385 inhibits infection without being harmful.

The compound, say the researchers, is unique because it blocks entry at the cell surface, without having to get into the cell, which prevents it from causing any detectable cell damage.

“As well, it’s highly potent, in that it needs only a tiny amount to work very effectively,” says study co-author Dr. Andrea Olmstead, research associate in the UBC department of microbiology and immunology.

Genetically engineered mice were infected with the virus causing COVID-19. They were given a daily dose of N-0385 in a nasal spray for four days. All ten treated mice survived infection, compared with only 20 per cent of similarly infected but untreated mice in a controlled study.

Also, N-0385 was tested against the Delta variant and was found to not only help with prevention of COVID-19, but also treatment 12 hours after infection, including with infection-related weight loss, and levels of the virus in the mice lungs, compared with controls.

N-0385 targets an enzyme that is present in nasal cells, where the virus tends to enter. This makes a nasal spray the most functional and efficient way to administer the compound.

As scientists have found no mutations relating to the virus which causes COVID-19 in this enzyme’s mechanism, it may help supply the foundation for defense against future strains of the virus, says Dr. Jean.

N-0385 has the potential to be used as a broad-spectrum treatment against other viruses which use the same mechanism, Dr. Jean says, including influenza viruses such as influenza A, H1N1, and influenza C.

“Even not knowing what you’ve been infected with during flu season, you could potentially be prescribed a nasal spray to treat coronaviruses and the flu,” Dr Jean says.

However, the spray should be used in combination with other drugs already on the market, he says, as the compound is an entry inhibitor, blocking entry of the virus to cells while other drugs reduce replication.

“The big picture is, that there are multiple steps in the life cycle of a virus. The first step is entering a cell to pass on genetic material, then it goes on to replicate. So, you would use both drugs: N-0385 could block most of the virus’ entry, making less work for the replicator drug.” 

The project teams are now at work with a private company to secure funding for clinical trials and investigating how to optimise N-0385 when used in combination with recently approved drugs to treat COVID-19.

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