26 September 2023

UQ closing in on pandemic treatment

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A scientist from the University of Queensland (UQ) says his team of international researchers has identified six drug candidates that could help treat COVID-19.

UQ Professor Luke Guddat (pictured) said the team had tested approved drugs, drug candidates in clinical trials and other compounds as part of its research brief.

“In order to rapidly discover lead compounds for clinical use, we initiated a program of high-throughput drug screening, both in laboratories and also using the latest computer software to predict how different drugs bind to the virus,” Professor Guddat said.

He said the team had tested thousands of drugs targeting the main COVID-19 virus enzyme, known as the main protease or Mpro, which played a pivotal role in mediating viral replication.

“This makes it an attractive drug target for this virus, and as people don’t naturally have this enzyme, compounds that target it are likely to have low toxicity,” Professor Guddat said.

He said six of the drugs tested were effective in inhibiting the enzyme.

“We add the drugs directly to the enzyme or to cell cultures growing the virus and assess how much of each compound is required to stop the enzyme from working or to kill the virus.”

He said if the amount was small “then we have a promising compound for further studies”.

Meanwhile the UQ’s vaccine program co-leader, Keith Chappell said work to identify a potential vaccine was entering a new phase of testing using live COVID-19 samples.

“This work will establish a critical package of data that will take us through to human clinical trials in the third quarter of the year,” Dr Chappell said.

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