Led by Dr. Kylie Wagstaff and team, Monash University, in collaboration with the Doherty Institute, triggered global interest in ivermectin, an FDA-approved marketed anti-parasitic drug, as a potential antiviral for the COVID-19 causative virus, SARS-CoV-2. The team’s preliminary lab work demonstrated that ivermectin reduces viral replication in vitro and there represents potential to reduce viral load. The Australian-based research served as a catalyst for researchers from Asia and Europe to North America and South America. Controversially, Ivermectin has even been approved as a treatment for patients with mild COVID-19 infections by Peru and possibly regional government in Bolivia. At least 18 ivermectin-based clinical trials have commenced in four different continents. Now with recent funding from Helmsley Trust and funds from the Australian government, Monash University investigators embark on a research mission to further evaluate ivermectin as well as a few other investigational approaches, in their ongoing and relentless March down in Melbourne to discovery new breakthrough therapies to address COVID-19.
As the university recently reported, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that Monash University would receive over $1.3 million for four research projects. This money comes from a $66 million government fund established to contribute to global efforts to control and eliminate the virus. The Medical Research Future Fund’s Coronavirus Research Response is part of the Australian Government’s $8 billion Coronavirus (COVID-19) National Health Plan.
Funded COVID-19 Studies at Monash University
Thanks to the federal funding as well as private sources, Monash University initiates studies investigating possible treatments for COVID-19 including 1) Ivermectin; 2) investigational inhaled treatment with a different mechanism that other treatments and vaccines in development; 3) convalescent plasma; and 4) novel inhibitors of SARS coronaviruses targeting ACE2.
The Ivermectin Study
Dr. Kyle Wagstaff and team shook up at least some in the research community worldwide with their striking lab research results evidencing the potential for ivermectin as a potential antiviral for COVID-19. Preliminary work in collaboration with the Peter Doherty Institute of Infection and Immunity found that ivermectin dramatically reduces viral replication (~5000 fold by 48h) in vitro and therefore has the potential to reduce viral load. As a possible antiviral treatment strategy, this could meet a huge unmet need in COVID-19 treatment and prevention.
Along with funding from the Helmsley Trust the Monash University team will investigate remaining pre-clinical questions associated with ivermectin as well as confirm the mechanism of action (host-targeted versus virus-targeted) and examine other compounds in the same class with similar mechanisms of action. Moreover, the team will investigate the potential for ivermectin to work in combination with other potential anti-COVID-19 compounds.
The Potential for Expedited Phase II Clinical Trials
Because ivermectin has been widely in use safety for the past three decades—extensive safety and pharmacokinetic data already exist, this preclinical research could possible inform an expedited Phase II clinical trial.
Other Important Research Investigations at Monash
Led by Professor Merlin Thomas, Monash has teamed with Murdoch University to investigate the potential for an inhaled treatment for COVID-19 that is characterized by a different mechanism than other treatments and vaccines in development
Professor Thomas and team are taking a different approach against COVID-19 by targeting ACE2. They have discovered a novel way to change ACE2 in order to prevent the pathogen using it to penetrate into cells. The team has found a means to accomplish this without sacrificing the benefits of ACE2.
Associate Professor Zoe McQuilten and team will evaluate whether convalescent plasma can be an effective treatment for those patients with COVID-19 that are admitted to the hospital or are in intensive care. In partnership with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood, the parties will conduct two large, multicenter national clinical trials.
Professor Robert Widdop and a team from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute have developed peptides closely related to the substrate of ACE2 that inhibits the catalytic activity of ACE2. These will be evaluated for their potential antiviral activity and to define their mechanism of action, in collaboration with the Burnet Institute. If this Australian-based team is successful, they will leverage extensive investigational networks for deployment in clinical trials.
Call to Action: Interested in reviewing all of the approved studies? Check out Minister Greg Hunt’s website.