Scientists have identified a new drug that is reportedly very effective in preventing severe COVID-19 in mice already infected with SARS-CoV-2.
The drug can also treat other respiratory coronaviruses. The study findings were published in the journal Science Immunology.
The findings suggest that the diABZI drug activates the body’s innate immune response, which is the first line of defence against invading pathogens.
How does the new drug work?
A single dose of the drug activates early immune response, which reportedly is a promising strategy for controlling the virus, including the B.1.351 coronavirus variant, which was first reported in South Africa and has led to worldwide concern.
According to Sara Cherry, senior author of the study and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the US, the development of effective antivirals is urgently needed for controlling SARS-CoV-2 infection, especially as dangerous variants of the virus continue to emerge.
Study: Key Highlights
• The SARS-CoV-2 virus initially targets the epithelial cells in the respiratory tract.
• The respiratory tract’s innate immune system, being the first line of defence against infection, recognises viral pathogens by detecting their molecular patterns.
• The researchers first decided to get a better understanding of this by observing human lung cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 under the microscope.
• They found that the virus is able to hide, delaying the immune system’s early recognition and response.
• The team then thought that it could identify drugs that could set off this immune response in the respiratory cells earlier and prevent severe SARS-CoV-2 infection.
• The researchers screened 75 drugs that target sensing pathways in lung cells in their search to identify drugs that would block SARS-CoV-2 infection.
• They were able to identify nine drugs that could significantly suppress the infection by activating STING, the simulation of interferon genes which plays an important role in innate immunity.
• The team then tested the newly-developed drug molecule called diABZI and found that it potently inhibits SARS-CoV-2 infection of diverse strains, including a variant of concern B.1.351, by stimulating interferon signaling.
• Interferons are signaling proteins that are made and released by host cells in response to the presence of several viruses.
diABZI drug clinical trials
• The diABZI drug was tested on transgenic mice infected with SARS-CoV-2 to check its effectiveness.
• The drug was administered through a nasal delivery, as it needs to reach the lungs.
• The mice that were treated with diABZI showed much less weight loss than the control mice.
• The mice also had significantly reduced viral loads in their lungs and nostrils and had increased cytokine production.
• The trial results supported the finding that diABZI stimulates interferon for protective immunity.
How will this help in the fight against COVID-19?
The study offers a slight ray of hope that the diABZI drug could be an effective treatment for SARS-CoV-2 and help prevent severe COVID-19 symptoms and the spread of infection.
The diABZI drug is currently being tested in clinical trials to treat some cancers.