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QIMR Berghofer Medical Researchers develop Covid-19 drugs

Queensland researchers have developed two breakthrough drugs that could both prevent and treat the virus that causes Covid-19.

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute scientists say the early intervention peptide-based drugs, currently being tested in hamsters in France, show promising early results.

The drugs target how human cells respond to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19. The first drug is designed to boost the efficacy of vaccines, while the second would stop the spread of the virus in already infected cells.

The discovery of the drugs came after researchers uncovered a “previously unknown” mode of entry that SARS-CoV-2 exploits to invade cells.

Senior researcher Sudha Rao said these were the first drugs scientists were aware of that could “operate on dual fronts”.

“We hope, if the clinical trials are successful, that the first drug could be given as a therapy alongside vaccination to prevent the virus binding to cells and taking hold, while the second peptide could be used to stop the virus replicating in already-infected patients,” Professor Rao said.

Professor Nabila Seddiki, who is testing the drugs at IDMIT in France, said the new drugs were an important step in the fight against Covid-19.

“Many of the drugs being developed around the world to treat Covid-19 are targeted at people with severe disease. However, these peptide-based drugs are aimed at preventing infection in the first place and at reducing the severity of the disease before it really takes hold,” Professor Seddiki said.

“These drugs … may provide the protection we need for emerging variants and can be used to protect the small group of people who cannot be vaccinated.”

The drugs can be stored at room temperature, which would make them easy to distribute.

HOW DO THE DRUGS WORK?

The first peptide-based drug reduces infection by cloaking the ACE2 receptor protein on human cells. The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein uses the ACE2 receptor to bind to and invade cells.

The virus latches onto the “cloaking” peptides, which they mistake for human cells, in turn preventing infection.

If the virus does find its way into cells, the second peptide-drug can block how the virus hijacks the host cell and replicates. It also boosts the immune system’s ability to recognise the virus.

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