University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers have identified a potential COVID-19 treatment in preclinical research activity targeting COVID-19, and they are now making the moves to secure the necessary approvals to investigate its use in North Texas. Called Atovaquone, a drug known for use against pneumonia in HIV patients, prevents the novel coronavirus from cell replication. The researchers are now preparing to be able to conduct human trials at UT Southwestern.
The team posted their results on the preprint server ChemXiv, hence the results have not been peer reviewed as of yet. The effort was led by Hesham Sadek, UT Southwestern Cardiologist and Researcher and Virologist John Schoggins. According to their account in the Dallas Morning News, they hope clinical trials can commence in weeks to come.
UT Southwestern Preclinical Capability
Known as the preclinical phase of drug development, research activities include candidate selection, preclinical development and clinical development. In preclinical research, there is a great focus on exploratory toxicology and exploratory safety.
Thereafter, the center of attention moves to regulatory toxicology and regulatory safety. It is these activities that UT Southwestern has great concentrated capability and experience. Hence, when COVID-19 emerged, Sadek recalled, “we wanted to try to do something and so we used this expertise to identify inhibitors of one of the main proteins of the virus.”
They initiated the search for candidates in March, which includes an investigation into the potential of repurposed drugs.
Hence, Schoggins reported that his lab set up this preclinical drug screening strategy where they observed the promise of atovaquone. He emphasized, “There’s not a lot of labs in the country that can actually work with the virus in the lab and grow it.” He continued emphasizing the capabilities of UT Southwestern preclinical research, saying, “It felt very important to me that we leverage our expertise and abilities.”
The team, reports Sadek, has primarily been investigating “drugs that can help generate the heart, which is the primary interest of my lab,” reported Sadek.
This research breakthrough occurred in a lab and hence the pair of researchers have no idea if it will actually work in humans, mentioned Dr. Sadek. Dr. Schoggins commented, “There’s over a dozen vaccines in the pipeline and I think its important that there also be many different drug paths in the pipeline, in the event that one of them emerges as a promising candidate.”
The Investigational Drug
Atovaquone is used to treat Pneumocystis jiroveci [Pneumocystis carniI] pneumonia (PCP; type of pneumonia most likely to infect people with HIV) in teenagers and adults. The drug is mostly used to prevent PCP in teenagers and adults who cannot take another medication used for prevention. It is in a class of medications called antiprotozoal agents. It works by actually stopping the growth of certain types of protozoa that can cause pneumonia. A trade name would be Mepron.® The brand name drug is produced by GlaxoSmithKline.
Hesham Sadek, MD, PhD, UT Southwestern Cardiologist and Researcher
John Schoggins, PhD, Associate Professor, Virologist
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