RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Collaborations Pharmaceuticals’ lab on North Carolina State University’s campus has been mostly quiet since the pandemic began. Most of their lab staff is working remotely.
When the pandemic was declared, Ana Puhl, senior scientist with the company, also went home.
“After being one week at home, I was thinking I need to something about this,” Puhl said.
Puhl came back to the lab to test if there were any antivirals already developed to help COVID-19 patients. It’s not a new idea. The currently available therapy Remdesivir was initially developed for Ebola.
“But that drug never got approved for Ebola. So they tested it in several coronaviruses, then [it showed it] was reactive, and they repurposed it,” said Puhl.
The lab doesn’t have the right biohazard clearance to test on coronavirus cells. So, Collaborations Pharmaceuticals teamed up with dozens of labs to help do the work. Researchers from N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill, and as far as Brazil are credited with helping in this testing.
Puhl found three antivirals — tilorone, quinacrine, and pyronaridine — used for Ebola and Marburg virus could potentially be repurposed, too. The findings were recently published in ACS Omega journal.
“This is really a great discovery,” Puhl said.
The discovery is just at the beginning stages. Animal testing and human trials are still needed before these treatments could ever gain approval for real-world use. Puhl said this portion will require them to gain more funding.
Collaborations Pharmaceuticals hopes to get the treatments into a more accessible form.
“In case of Remdesivir, you would need to go to the hospital to get the drug injected, so you need oral drugs, like pills,” Puhl said.
Improving current treatments
Intravenous therapies are not ideal for people who have a difficult time getting into hospitals like those in remote areas or who are home-bound.
“I think it’s really important that we provide treatment for places where vaccines could not be delivered, at least at this moment,” Puhl said.
She added that beating COVID-19 will require a global effort when it comes to treatments and vaccines. If not?
“This virus strain will keep circulating, keep mutating, and we’ll never end this,” Puhl said.
The currently available treatments need to be used within 10 days of infection. It’s a tight window, as most people don’t know they’re infected until several days into their contraction. Adding to the challenge, not every health care facility has them available. If you’re at high risk for serious disease, little time can be wasted looking for treatment.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed a therapeutics locator map. It shows health care facilities around the country where therapies are available.