Science and technology, Canada (Commonwealth Union) – During the early days of the pandemic many prominent virologists predicted that a new virus may cause many fatalities and severe illness to the most vulnerable, in the initial stages however as time goes by, the human immunity will adapt to it and the virus may become more infectious and less deadly. A variety of different approaches are often required to reduce the levels of fatalities and severe illness.
Scientists at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Life Sciences Institute have identified a compound with the potential to block infections from a range of coronaviruses, that include every variant of SARS-CoV-2 and the common cold.
The study that was, published recently in Molecular Biomedicine, demonstrates a possibility of heading towards antiviral treatments that may act against a lot of different pathogens.
Dr. Yossef Av-Gay, an infectious disease professor for the UBC, faculty of medicine and the senior author of the study indicated that beyond COVID-19, there are a lot of varieties of coronaviruses that may result in serious and at times fatal disease, where more can emerge in future.
“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,” said Dr. Av-Gay.
The scientists have taken a new approach in targeting the virus which has indicated greater success where instead of targeting the virus directly, the compound has its focus on a human cellular process that coronaviruses apply for replication.
As viruses are unable to replicate on their own, they depend on protein-synthesis pathways in host cells in forming copies of themselves. Coronaviruses utilize a human enzyme known as GSK3 beta present in all human cells.
The role enzymes have been a key focus many researchers for both medical treatments and the industrial production of biological products, as the targeting of the enzyme can be key for the entire procedure.
Dr. Tirosh Shapira, a postdoctoral fellow at the UBC, faculty of medicine and the 1st author of the study, indicated that they found that coronaviruses were hijacking GSK3 beta and applying it to edit the protein that pack the genetic material and further stated that the compound blocks GSK3 beta, as a result of which, halts the virus from replicating and maturing its proteins.
The compound is a section of a larger family of experimental drugs generally referred to as GSK3 inhibitors. Since the late 1990s, researchers from all over academia and industry have focused on GSK3 inhibitors for their possibilities as treatments for a variety of diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
“By targeting this cellular pathway, rather than the virus itself, we see broad activity against multiple pathogens. We’re also acting on a pathway that is so far immune to changes between variants and different coronaviruses,” explained Dr. Shapira.
To mark the compound, researchers screened a library of almost 100 known GSK3 inhibitors, provided via a partnership between UBC and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company based in Japan. Testing of the compounds were done in cell as well as the tissue models infected with SARS-CoV-2 and the common cold virus.
The testing resulted in multiple GSK3 inhibitors indicating an elevated level of effectiveness against the coronaviruses and minor toxicity to human cells. The leading compound, identified as T-1686568, blocked both SARS-CoV-2 and the common cold virus, the main criteria the authors utilized in seeking a broad-spectrum protection.
“We’re not just fighting SARS-CoV-2, we’re looking ahead at what’s next,” said Dr. Shapira further saying “We’re focused on identifying future-proof treatments for variants and viruses that emerge down the road and rely on the same cellular mechanisms to grow and infect.”