UBC researchers discover three compounds that block COVID-19 infection

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A research team led by UBC scientists has identified three compounds that can prevent COVID-19 infection in human cells.

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The compounds all come from natural sources in Canada, including a sea sponge collected from Howe Sound in British Columbia and marine bacteria from Barkley Sound.

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François Jean and co-author Jimena Perez-Vargas led an international team that studied more than 350 compounds from natural sources such as plants, fungi and sea sponges to unlock their potential for creating new antiviral drugs to be used against COVID-19 and other pathogens.

“This interdisciplinary research team uncovers the important possibilities of biodiversity and natural resources and uncovers nature-based solutions for global health challenges such as COVID-19,” said lead author Jean, associate professor in the department. of Microbiology and Immunology from the University. from British Columbia

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Francois Jean, an associate professor in UBC's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is the study's lead author.
Francois Jean, an associate professor in UBC’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is the study’s lead author. Photo by Paul-Joseph /UBC

The group bathed human lung cells in solutions made from the compounds, then infected the cells with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Twenty-six of them reduced viral infection and three were effective in very small doses.

“The advantage of these compounds is that they target the cells rather than the virus, preventing the virus from replicating and helping the cell to recover,” said Jimena Pérez-Vargas, research associate in the Department of Microbiology and Microbiology. UBC Immunology.

“Human cells evolve more slowly than viruses, so these compounds could work against future variants and other viruses such as influenza if they use the same mechanisms.”

The version of the virus used in the experiments causes cells to glow fluorescent green when infected, which allowed researchers to “easily and quickly verify thousands of compounds”, said another co-author, Tirosh Shapira of the faculty of medicine. “Even more importantly, with it we have the ability to follow SARS-CoV-2 ‘live’ as it spreads from cell to cell.”

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“We’ve been collecting (compounds) for 40 years all over the world, but these three just happen to be Canadian and two are from British Columbia,” said co-author Raymond Andersen, a professor in the chemistry department.

The challenge with the ever-evolving novel coronavirus is that while the compounds worked well against Delta and some Omicron variants, they were not effective against newer variants. This highlights the need for new antivirals, Jean said.

Researchers will move to animal models over the next six months and continue to work on “large-scale testing of natural product-based drugs that can block infection associated with other respiratory viruses of high concern in Canada and around the world.” world, like influenza A and RSV,” Jean said.

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