Based on preclinical research in cell cultures and animals, a team of investigators at the University of Nottingham in England and collaborators find that thapsigargin, a promising broad spectrum antiviral is actually highly effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, the common cold coronavirus, repository syncytial virus (RSV) and the influenza A virus. Could the novel antiviral property of this substance derived from a western Mediterranean plant represent major implications in how future epidemics and pandemics, including the current one, are managed?
TrialSite provides a brief breakdown of the current University of Nottingham findings that were recently published in the journal Viruses.
Who is behind this study?
The study represents a collaborative project led by Professor Kin-Chow Chang as well as experts from the University of Nottingham (Schools of Veterinary Medicine and Sciences, Biosciences, Pharmacy, Medicine and Chemistry), and colleagues at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), China Agricultural University and Pirbright Institute).
What is thapsigargin?
Classified as a “sesquiterpene lactone,” it’s extracted from the plant known as Thapsia garganica, a small genus of poisonous plants in the Apiaceae family; they grow in the western Mediterranean from the Atlantic Coast of Portugal and Morocco, reports Wiki. The plant extract promotes tumors in mammalian cells. The substance apparently raises cytosolic (intracellular) calcium concentration by stopping a cell’s ability to pump calcium into sarcoplasmic and endoplasmic reticula. Moreover, as shared in the Wiki entry, “Store-depletion” possibly activates “plasma membrane calcium channels,” helping calcium into the cytosol. Thapsigargin is used in experiments investigating impacts of greater cytosolic calcium concentrations and ER calcium depletion.
What is the net findings of this study?
This team of experts found that the plant-derived antiviral, at small doses, triggers a highly effective broad-spectrum host-centered antiviral innate immune response against the three major types of human respiratory viruses—including COVID-19.
Why is this relevant now?
Well as the study team shared in their EurekAlert! press release, as respiratory viral infections, regardless of cause, are indistinguishable on presentation (e.g. when a patient is diagnosed by a healthcare professional), an effective broad-spectrum capable of targeting various virus types at simultaneously represents an intriguing opportunity.
For example, if this antiviral could be translated into a drug product it could be made available for community use to control active infection and its spread.
What stage of clinical research is this study?
Preclinical—cell cultures and animals.
What are the key preclinical study findings?
The study team reports on the following findings and observations based on the preclinical cell and animal studies.
- effective against viral infection when used before or during active infection
- able to prevent a virus from making new copies of itself in cells for at least 48 hours after a single 30-minute exposure.
- stable in acidic pH, as found in the stomach, and therefore can be taken orally, so could be administered without the need for injections or hospital admission.
- not sensitive to virus resistance.
- at least several hundred-fold more effective than current antiviral options.
- just as effective in blocking combined infection with coronavirus and influenza A virus as in single-virus infection
- safe as an antiviral (a derivative of thapsigargin has been tested in prostate cancer)
University of Nottingham
The University of Nottingham, a public research university in Nottingham, United Kingdom, was founded as University College Nottingham in 1881 and was granted a royal charter I 1948. The institution belongs to the elite research intensive Russel Group association. Ranked number 4 in the UK for top employers, their Research group includes opportunity for business collaboration. The institution has presence in China and Malaysia.
Professor Kin-Chow Chang, Professor of Veterinary Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences
Call to Action: Although still early here, this seems like a potentially robust target for a commercial partnership. Hence, we include under the tag InvestorWatch.