UBC scientists find ‘broadly effective, infection-halting compound’ for coronaviruses

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UBC’s Life Sciences department has announced an exciting discovery as researchers said they’ve identified a compound that shows early promise in halting infections from a range of coronaviruses.

According to scientists, that would include all variants of SARS-Cov-2 and the common cold.

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“Beyond COVID-19, there are many different types of coronaviruses that can cause serious and sometimes fatal disease, and even more are likely to emerge in the future,” says Dr. Yossef Av-Gay, a UBC faculty of medicine infectious disease professor and the study’s senior author.

“We’re working toward treatments that can be broadly effective against all types of coronaviruses so that we can respond to not only current health challenges but also future pandemic threats. Identifying this compound and the pathway by which it works to stop viruses is an important step in that direction.”

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The researchers credit the compound’s effectiveness to the unique way it works, as it doesn’t target the virus directly but instead “targets a human cellular process that coronaviruses use to replicate.”

Since viruses can’t reproduce or replate on their own, they rely on protein-synthesis pathways in host cells to create copies of themselves. In the case of coronaviruses, the viruses use a human enzyme called GSK3 beta which exists in all human cells, according to the researchers.

“We found that coronaviruses hijack this human enzyme and use it to edit the protein that packs its genetic material,” said Dr. Tirosh Shapira, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s faculty of medicine and the study’s first author.

“This compound blocks GSK3 beta, which in turn, stops the virus from reproducing and maturing its proteins.”

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UBC and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. in Japan worked in collaboration to test the compound in cells and tissue models.

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The testing yielded “a high level of effectiveness against the coronaviruses and showed a low level of toxicity to human cells,” the researchers said.

“While these are early days, it’s encouraging to see broad levels of effectiveness in tissue models,” Shapira said. “Because these compounds require many years of testing and regulatory approval before they can potentially reach patients, we need to be thinking about long-term applications and how this could apply broadly to future viruses and variants.”

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