New COVID-19 drug under development from Texas A&M research group

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HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Since the pandemic began, scientists have been looking for ways to treat people infected with COVID-19. Researchers at Texas A&M think they may have created a drug that would be the most successful at doing it.

Remdesivir is the only FDA-approved drug to treat COVID-19 as of August 2021, but scientists are constantly searching to find new drugs that work.

One such drug being worked on by researchers at Texas A&M has shown promise. Dr. Wenshe Ray Liu, the lead researcher and a professor at Texas A&M University, said the new drug compound ‘MPI8’ was “developed to target essential protease” in the COVID virus.

Protease are enzymes in cells that help break down proteins so they can be used to fuel the cell. Another function of a protease is to help with cell division. So, by targeting specific protease in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Liu said they would be able to stop the virus from multiplying.

The reason for targeting the specific proteases with the drug compound is because, in SARS-CoV-2, the “protease is actually highly conserved”. That means it isn’t able to mutate as much as other parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can, making it stable and similar through multiple variations of the virus.

“Even a little bit of mutation to the protease would cause the virus not to be able to survive,” said Liu.

By targeting a part of the virus they know won’t change, Liu said that the MPI8 “compound would be potent not just to the current existing strain, but it would be effective to most of the future strains, too.”

For a disease that is mutating as rapidly as COVID-19, that is important.

In the roughly 18 months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic, four variants of concern have been identified by the WHO. There are four more variants the WHO is watching to see if they will be upgraded from variant of interest to variant of concern.

COVID-19 is not the first major coronavirus outbreak this century. In the early 2000s, 8,000 people were infected with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS. In the early 2010s, over 2,500 people were diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS.

Dr. Liu told ValleyCentral that his research group didn’t expect the pandemic to still be as big a problem as it is when they began their work, and there’s a chance it might not be by the time clinical trials are completed in Spring 2022.

Whether the pandemic is still going on by that time or not, Liu said the research the group is doing will still be beneficial for the next coronavirus that comes around, and he pointed toward the two previous outbreaks in as many decades as proof something like MPI8 will be needed.

“It doesn’t matter how much we’ve prepared, so we’re going to see some other coronavirus pandemic show up later on,” he said.

Liu said he hoped to be done with pre-clinical trials by the end of the year so they can have clinical trials done by the end of Spring 2022 and hopefully have the drug available for use by Summer 2022.

That’s nearly a year from now, but Liu said the researchers are working as fast as they can.

“Please, give scientists some time to figure out a new medicine for the current pandemic,” he said. “Don’t lose hope on us, we’re doing our job.”

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