Drug repurposing potential for COVID-19

Thursday, 16 April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for anti-viral therapies to treat respiratory virus infections. With a vaccine probably at least 12 months away, drug repurposing (using clinically approved drugs which also have anti-viral activity) offers hope in fast-tracking therapies to possibly treat infected people and save lives.

Nathan Barlett and Hubert Hondermarck in a labratory looking at the camera
(L-R) Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett and Professor Hubert Hondermarck

A new literature review, published in FASEB BioAdvances, explores the rapid and worldwide spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and identifies a class of drugs well known in the field of cancer treatment as offering hope of an anti-viral.

Cancer Biochemist Professor Hubert Hondermarck and Virologist Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett from the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute have identified the link between growth factor receptors (GFRs) which promote many cancers, and viral infections.

Viruses, including coronaviruses, hijack GFRs to support infection. They suggest that repurposing existing oncologic drugs could potentially interfere with viral infection and boost the arsenal in the fight against COVID-19.

So what are the drugs currently used to target GFRs? There are currently two categories of drugs used in the treatment of cancer with such effects: GFR- blocking monoclonal antibodies (mAb) and tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

At this stage it has not yet been demonstrated that GFRs are specificially involved in SARS-Co V-2 cell entry and replication, but the current knowledge about the role of GFRs in other viral infections, and indeed other coronaviruses, suggests that testing repurposed anti-GFR drugs might be explored in the fight against COVID-19.

Nathan Bartlett and Hubert Hondermarck are currently conducting a research project to test this promising hypothesis.

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

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