JAN 06, 2023 9:00 AM PST

Discovery of Compound that Inhibits COVID and Colds

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Charron

Researchers at the University of British Colombia’s Life Sciences Institute have identified a compound that can potentially halt infections associated with various coronaviruses, including all variants of SARS-CoV-2 and the common cold. The results of this study could be used to develop antiviral treatments to fight multiple pathogens and was published in Molecular Biomedicine.

The compound’s broad effectiveness is unique in the way it works. Rather than targeting the virus itself, the compound targets a human cellular process that coronaviruses use to replicate. Viruses cannot reproduce independently, so they rely on protein-synthesis pathways in host cells to replicate themselves. For example, coronaviruses use a human enzyme called GSK3 beta found in all human cells. The compound is part of a broader family of experimental drugs known as GSK3 inhibitors that have been identified as potential treatments for several diseases, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.

The research team screened a library of nearly 100 known GSK3 inhibitors to identify the compound and tested the compounds in cell and tissue models infected with SARS-CoV-2 and the common cold virus. Multiple GSK3 inhibitors showed a high level of effectiveness against coronaviruses, and at the same time, they had low toxicity to human cells. The leading compound, T-1686568 inhibited both SARS-CoV-2 and the common cold virus. Postdoctoral fellow, and the study’s first author, Dr. Tirosh Shapira explained that “We found that coronaviruses hijack this human enzyme and use it to edit the protein that packs its genetic material. This compound blocks GSK3 beta, which in turn, stops the virus from reproducing and maturing its proteins.” Targeting this cellular pathway instead of the virus itself results in broad activity against multiple pathogens. This is also another key advantage of targeting the pathway: the pathway is immune to changes between variants and different coronaviruses.” 

Identification of this compound and its pathway provides valuable direction for drug discovery. Infectious disease professor and senior author Dr. Yossef Av-Gay explains the urgency to find effective treatments: “Beyond COVID-19, there are many different types of coronaviruses that can cause serious and sometimes fatal disease, and even more are likely to emerge in the future.” The UCB team is working toward treatments that can be broadly effective against all types of coronaviruses. This development will allow medical professionals to respond more effectively to current health challenges and future pandemic threats. 

Experts recommend taking precautions such as getting a vaccine or booster, thorough handwashing, and wearing a mask during this winter’s “tripledemic” threat (cold, flu, and COVID) season. Increases in viral transmissions have been reported nationally and globally. This study provides the groundwork for long-term applications and fighting future viruses and variants.  

Sources: Eureka News Alert, Molecular Biomedicine, UBC Finder

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kerry Charron writes about medical cannabis research. She has experience working in a Florida cultivation center and has participated in advocacy efforts for medical cannabis.
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