Canadian researchers have discovered that a drug used to treat coronavirus infections in cats shows promise in helping COVID-19 patients. Under experimental conditions, the drug blocks the replication of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, called SARS-CoV-2, in infected human cells.
"This drug is very likely to work in humans, so we're encouraged that it will be an effective antiviral treatment for COVID-19 patients," said Joanne Lemieux, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Alberta. The research team published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications.
The drug, called GC376 is a protease inhibitor — a class of antiviral drugs that are widely used to treat infections such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. GC376 is used to treat feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), an immune-mediated disease triggered by infection with a type of coronavirus. FIP is a major problem in environments where many cats are kept together in a confined space such as catteries, shelters, and pet stores.
Lemieux and colleagues demonstrated that the FIP drug GC376 was able to interfere with SARS-CoV-2 proliferation in human cell lines.
"We determined the three-dimensional shape of the protease with the drug in the active site pocket, showing the mechanism of inhibition," Lemieux added. "This will allow us to develop even more effective drugs."
The preclinical testing was so promising that the team already has plans to test the drug in humans in the works.
"Typically for a drug to go into clinical trials, it has to be confirmed in the lab and then tested in animal models," Lemieux said. "Because this drug has already been used to treat cats with coronavirus, and it's effective with little to no toxicity, it's already passed those stages and this allows us to move forward."
"Because of the strong data that we and others have gathered we're pursuing clinical trials for this drug as an antiviral for COVID-19."