Rapidly identifying antiviral drugs
A team led by virologist Dr. Joyce Wilson aims to identify existing drugs, such as those used to treat cancer or other diseases, that can be repurposed to treat COVID-19 infections.
Her team includes genetics expert and oncologist Franco Vizeacoumar and co-applicant Darryl Falzarano, a research scientist at the USask Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac). Falzarano was the first in Canada to grow SARS-CoV-2—the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19—to pursue development of a vaccine.
“Only two of us are virologists, and only one is a coronavirus expert, but it’s exciting that we can pool our combined expertise to rapidly identify antiviral drugs,” said Wilson.
The team will begin by using genomic tools to identify specific host factors—such as genetic traits in humans—that enable SARS-CoV-2 to infect people.
The virus needs to hijack host proteins to reproduce, and some of them are also involved in other human diseases such as cancer, said Wilson. “So it’s likely that current therapeutics designed to treat such diseases also inhibit SARS-CoV-2.”
The team hopes to identify within the next seven months the critical pathways SARS-CoV-2 needs to thrive, and develop a rapid drug screening tool by January.
“Then we will buy and screen an array of therapeutic drugs that target the virus. Since the therapeutics we identify may have already been approved for human use, it will speed up their progression to clinical testing in COVID-19 patients,” she said.
The goal is to identify SARS-CoV-2 inhibitors by June of 2021.