Scientists have used artificial intelligence (AI) to identify several drug candidates already used for other purposes — including one dietary supplement — that can block or reduce SARS-CoV-2 infection in cells.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, used AI-powered image analysis of human cell lines during infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The cells were treated with more than 1,400 individual US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs and compounds, before or after viral infection, and screened, resulting in 17 potential hits.
Ten of those hits were newly recognized, with seven identified in previous drug repurposing studies, including remdesivir, one of the few FDA-approved therapies for COVID-19 in hospitalized patients.
“Traditionally, the drug development process takes a decade — and we just don’t have a decade,” said Jonathan Sexton, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan (UM) Medical School in the US.
“The therapies we have discovered are well positioned for Phase 2 clinical trials because their safety has already been established,” said Sexton, one of the senior authors of the study paper.
The team validated the 17 candidate compounds in several cell types, including stem cell-derived human lung cells in an attempt to mimic SARS-CoV2 respiratory infection.
Nine showed antiviral activity at reasonable doses, including lactoferrin, a protein found in human breast milk and also available over the counter as a cow’s milk-based dietary supplement.
“We found that lactoferrin had remarkable efficacy for preventing infection, and that it worked better than anything else we’ve observed,” Sexton said.
Early data suggest that this efficacy extends even to newer variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the highly transmissible Delta variant, the researchers said.
The team will soon launch clinical trials of the compound to investigate its ability to reduce viral loads and inflammation in patients with SARS-CoV2 infection.
The trials add to the list of ongoing trials of promising reused drugs, the researchers said.
The team noted that over the course of the pandemic, other drug repurposing studies have identified several compounds with potential efficacy against SARS-CoV2.
“The results seem to depend on which cell system is used,” Sexton said.
“But there is emerging consensus around a subset of drugs and those are the ones that have the highest priority for clinical translation. We fully expect the majority of these won’t work in humans, but we expect there are some that will.” .” ,” he said.
The study also identified a class of compounds called MEK inhibitors, most commonly prescribed to treat cancer, that appear to worsen SARS-CoV2 infection.
“People undergoing chemotherapy are already at risk because of a decreased immune response. We need to investigate whether some of these drugs worsen disease progression,” Sexton said.
The next step, he noted, is to use electronic health records to see if patients taking these drugs have worse COVID-19 outcomes.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)