Griffith University: Eye and cystic fibrosis drugs identified among drugs with potential to guide new COVID-19 treatments

Medications used to treat conjunctivitis and cystic fibrosis and a medical dye may guide future strategies for treatment of COVID-19 according to new Griffith University research published in mBio.

Co-led by Professor Michael Jennings and Associate Professor Thomas Haselhorst at the Institute for Glycomics, the researchers used a combination of computer-based and biophysical methods to search for drugs that block the binding of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19) to cells. These drugs work by interacting with either the virus surface protein spike, or its cell receptor ACE2.

Dr Christopher Day
“As well as vaccines, potent drugs to treat COVID-19 are urgently needed,’’ said researcher Dr Christopher Day.

“Due to time and the cost of developing new drugs, our researchers have been pursuing drug repurposing – using drugs that have already been approved for other therapeutic purposes.”

The researchers identified and tested several drugs in vitro against SARS-CoV-2 infection, using a well-established cell model.

“Three of them – Evans blue (medical dye), sodium lifitegrast (conjunctivitis) and lumacaftor (cystic fibrosis) – were found to block virus infection of cells in culture and therefore may be further evaluated for repurposing as therapeutics or to guide the development of new drugs,’’ said co-author Dr Benjamin Bailly.

Dr Benjamin Bailly
Work is about to commence to test the effectiveness of these drugs in advanced, ex vivo human respiratory cell models, facilitated by the Australian-German Fraunhofer International Consortium for Anti-Infective Research (iCAIR®) initiative.

“All identified drugs in this study have potential to provide blueprints for the development of new antiviral compounds for the treatment of COVID-19,’’ Dr Day said.

“The promising outcome of this research is thanks to significant funding received from the Queensland Government and the City of Gold Coast. Each provided $100,000 to the Australian node of iCAIR®’s COVID-19 project to develop treatments against SARS-CoV-2,” said co-author and Director Professor Mark von Itzstein AO.