With no approved vaccines or drugs that specifically target COVID-19 currently available, the only fast option to finding a drug treatment during this pandemic is to try to “recycle” existing drugs and identify which ones can also be used to treat COVID-19.
A team at Essex’s School of Life Sciences, led by Dr Filippo Prischi, has been working on finding existing drugs that can bind to the virus and block it from infecting the cells in the body.
The research, published in Scientific Reports, used an innovative combination of advanced computer techniques to understand which one of the 2,500-plus drugs approved for human use could bind to the virus.
“We found that the drugs Simeprevir and Lumacaftor seem particularly promising in treating COVID-19 patients,” explained Dr Prischi. “In fact, by simulating the binding of the virus to the human cells, we were able to see that both drugs prevent the virus from coming into contact with our cells.”
Simeprevir is an antiviral drug used for the treatment of Hepatitis C and Lumacaftor is used for the treatment of cystic fibrosis.
The next step for the research, which also involved scientists from the University of Siena in Italy, is hopefully to get funding to put the simulations into practice and start testing the efficacy of the drugs in the lab.
This is one of many computational studies being carried out around the world as part of the global fight against COVID-19, but what sets this study apart from the others is the Essex team designed a very robust computational approach, combining several techniques that are considered the most reliable ones.
Dr Prischi usually leads research groups focusing on developing new treatment options for cancer. However, he has turned their attention to COVID-19 to use his expertise and skills developed in the cancer field in the global fight against this virus.