University of Alberta Study
At the University of Alberta, scientists have shown that in stopping the replication mechanism of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, the drug remdesivir is highly effective. The drug is found to be effective against a key enzyme of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the Covid-19 infection.
The same lab had published a research study in late February demonstrating how the drug worked against a related coronavirus, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) virus. The new paper follows closely on this previous research.
The chair of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta, Matthias Götte said, “We were expecting that we would see the same results against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We see remdesivir as a very potent inhibitor for coronavirus polymerases because we got almost identical results as we previously reported with MERS.”
The detailed working of how remdesivir, the drug developed to fight the Ebola epidemic, in 2014, is demonstrated in Gotte’s new paper. He links the polymerase to the engine of the virus, responsible for synthesizing the genome of the virus.
Götte said, ” The virus cannot spread if you target the polymerase, hence for treatment, it is a very logical target.”
The mechanism of remdesivir tricking the virus by mimicking its building blocks is shown in the lab’s work.
Götte explained, “These coronavirus polymerases get fooled as they are sloppy, thus making the virus no longer capable of replicating as the inhibitor gets incorporated many times.”
He sais that remdesivir can be classified as a “direct-acting antiviral” against SARS-CoV-2 with the evidence from his group along with studies in animal and cell culture models published previously. In COVID-19 patients, the promise of clinical trials for remdesivir, which are already underway around the world is reinforced by the discovery of this direct action.
He added that though the evidence justifies clinical trials, predicting how the drug will work with people cannot be made using the results obtained in the lab. He said, “We should wait for the results of the randomized clinical trials and we’ve got to be patient.”
For the treatment of the deadly covid-19 disease, remdesivir is already in human trials.
A couple of years ago, Gotte’s lab switched to focus on viruses with the highest epidemic potential and they previously worked on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and HCV. The World Health Organization (WHO), in 2015, included Ebola, Lassa, and coronaviruses in its list of the top pathogens likely to cause severe outbreaks.
Götte said, “My lab specializes in viral polymerases and in that sense, we were prepared. Evaluating other promising antivirals using the lab’s tools would be the next step.”
Comparing potential treatments in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in a dozen countries, remdesivir is one of several drugs being fast-tracked into trials by the World Health Organization.
Götte said, as early as April or May, the results from important clinical trials can be expected. It is disappointing that the huge cost involved in developing new drugs was the reason why the antivirals discovered at the time of the 2003 SARS outbreak, which could have been effective against COVID-19 too were never translated into widely available treatments.
He added, “Ten billion dollars seems like a huge amount, however, it is nothing in the context of this pandemic and the costs associated with this pandemic.”
The Journal of Biological Chemistry published this new research study. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Gilead Sciences, which manufactures remdesivir, and Alberta’s Major Innovation Fund funded this research study.