Australian Researchers Develop New Drugs to Prevent and Treat COVID-19

May 25, 2021 Updated: May 26, 2021

Researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia have developed two new drugs which can protect people from spreading COVID-19 and prevent those who are infected from developing severe disease.

A team led by Professor Sudha Rao, senior researcher and head of QIMR Berghofer’s Gene Regulation and Translational Medicine Group, has developed two peptide-based drugs, which are now being tested in hamsters at IDMIT, a pre-clinical and clinical research facility in France.

The early results showed that the drugs are not toxic and have few side effects.

“The drugs are also stable and can be stored at room temperature—which would make them easy to distribute,” the Institute said in a statement.

“These are the first drugs we are aware of that can operate on dual fronts,” Rao said.

“We hope, if the clinical trials are successful, that the first drug could be given as a therapy alongside vaccination to prevent the virus binding to cells and taking hold, while the second peptide could be used to stop the virus replicating in already-infected patients.”

Vaccines are slower because they rely on human body’s own immune system learning to mount immunity, Rao told Australian Associated Press (AAP).

“Our drugs are a very rapid fix. So basically, if someone is exposed, if someone believes that they’re exposed, then these drugs work very quickly to prevent the virus from replicating or entering,” Rao said. “What’s important here is that in this pandemic, COVID-19 is here to stay and we’re going to need multiple tools in our toolbox.”

The drugs could also be significant for people who haven’t been vaccinated or who are unable to get vaccinations due to allergies or illness.

“We know that many, many people will not be able to take the vaccine, so this is one essential part of the arsenal for those sorts of people,” She said. “For people who’ve been vaccinated, if they know that they’ve been suddenly been exposed to this virus, what this [drug] does is it allows us to help boost the efficacy of the vaccine.”

Professor Nabila Seddiki, who is currently testing the drugs at IDMIT, said the development was “an exciting step” in fighting against the virus.

“Many of the drugs being developed around the world to treat COVID-19 are targeted at people with severe disease. However, these peptide-based drugs are aimed at preventing infection in the first place, and at reducing the severity of the disease before it really takes hold,” Seddiki said.

“These drugs could also be very important because they may provide the protection we need for emerging variants and be used to protect the small group of people who cannot be vaccinated.”

The study findings were published on Nature Cell Discovery on Tuesday.

AAP contributed to this report.