New Coronavirus Drug Shows Promise in Animal TestsAn oral medicine was able to hinder the coronavirus behind COVID-19 as it attempted to replicate itself in human lung cells in test tubes, scientists reported Monday. It also hampered closely related coronaviruses from reproducing in mice for several days and improved their lung functions.*
The drug, called EIDD-2801, interferes with a key mechanism that allows the SARS-CoV-2 virus to reproduce in high numbers and cause infections, the researchers explained in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Human trials have not yet been done, but if the effect is similar in people, the drug would be the first pill available to help with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in more than 1.3 million cases and about 76,400 deaths worldwide. An oral medication would be a boon, because it would be easier to give to more people than an intravenous injection.
The study was done by a team at Emory University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. A company that has licensed the drug, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, has just been granted permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin 10 patient trials of the antiviral pill in the next few months.
The same university collaboration had already found that Gilead Sciences’ experimental medicine remdesivir was effective in shutting down replication of the coronaviruses that caused the original SARS and MERS epidemics. Remdesivir has received attention because it entered clinical trials against SARS-CoV-2 in March, and the first results may come by late April. The findings announced yesterday indicate that EIDD-2801 was possibly even more successful in disrupting coronavirus replication than the Gilead drug. On March 20 the researchers investigating EIDD-2801, co-led by Tim Sheahan of Chapel Hill, posted the results of their animal studies on the preprint server bioRxiv while submitting them for peer review. Given the current COVID-19 crisis, “it was important to share,” says George Painter, a professor of chemistry and executive director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development, which first produced the drug.