Story at a glance
- Scientists continue to look for treatments for COVID-19.
- A drug originally found in a sea creature was approved in Australia for use against a type of cancer.
- The researchers found that the drug was 27.5 times more effective than remdesivir as a novel coronavirus antiviral in human and mouse cell cultures.
The chemical compound plitidepsin (trademarked name Aplidin) was first extracted from a sea organism known as Aplidium albicans, commonly known as sea squirts. Researchers recently published in Science the results of preclinical experiments involving using plitidepsin to treat human and mouse cells infected with SARS-CoV-2. They found evidence that suggests it’s possible this drug can be used as a therapy for COVID-19.
The drug has been used in the past and was approved in Australia as a treatment for a type of cancer called multiple myeloma. But because there are so many potential drug compounds that exist, researchers can screen them for other uses and in this case for the coronavirus.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created an immediate need for antiviral therapeutics that can be moved into the clinic urgently. This led us to screen clinically approved drugs with established safety profiles,” says Adolfo García-Sastre, who is professor of microbiology and director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, according to a press release. García-Sastre is one of the lead researchers of the Science paper.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW
The researchers focused on how the virus uses human cells to survive and reproduce. “That research led us to a biologic pathway, the eukaryotic translation machinery, where inhibition of the pathway showed significant antiviral activity in cell culture,” says Nevan Krogan, director of UC San Francisco’s Quantitative Bioscience Institute and one of the study’s lead researchers.
Today, we publish a new article @ScienceMagazine on a promising therapeutic for #SARSCoV2 infection: Plitidepsin (Aplidin). Plitidepsin, an eEF1A inhibitor, potently inhibits virus in vitro and in vivo and is progressing in clinical trials for #Covid_19. https://t.co/3yotQcmwoq— Krogan Lab (@KroganLab) January 25, 2021
When they tested plitidepsin in their experiments, they found that it was effective in human and mouse cell lines. “Plitidepsin is an extremely potent inhibitor of SARS-CoV-2, but its most important strength is that it targets a host protein rather than a viral protein,” said Kris White, who is an assistant professor of microbiology at ISMMS and first author of the Science paper, in the press release. “This means that if plitidepsin is successful in the treatment of COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be unable to gain resistance against it through mutation, which is a major concern with the spread of the new U.K. and South African variants.”
Although the drug would have to go through more tests to see if it’s effective against all the variants, there is some promising evidence that it would still be a good treatment option. The group also tested the drug against the U.K. variant and found that it was effective, although that research has not been published yet and is available as a preprint.
The next steps would be for the drug to go through clinical trials to test if it is effective in treating people with an active SARS-CoV-2 infection. "We need some new weapons in the arsenal," Krogan tells the San Francisco Chronicle. "This is by far the best thing we’ve seen."
For up-to-date information about COVID-19, check the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. For updated global case counts, check this page maintained by Johns Hopkins University or the COVID Tracking Project.
You can follow Chia-Yi Hou on Twitter.
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