A team of researchers recently released a study detailing how Ebola drug remdesivir stops coronaviruses from replicating. The study was published on the same day that the US National Institutes of Health said that remdesivir is being used in a clinical trial for experimental treatment of COVID-19, the sometimes fatal disease which the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes.
Prior research has demonstrated remdesivir’s ability to stop coronavirus replication but it was not known how it does so until now. Researchers from the University of Alberta, Edmonton and Gilead Sciences studied remdesivir’s effects on HcoV-EMC/2012, the coronavirus which causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and found that the drug blocks an enzyme which the virus needs to replicate.
Coronavirus replication involves an enzyme called the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. A researcher in the study said that this enzyme has been difficult to work with until now and that this has slowed remdesivir research.
The researchers found that the RNA-dependent RNA polymerases can incorporate remdesivir into new strands of RNA because remdesivir resembles a building block of RNA. The polymerases are no longer able to add more subunits of RNA shortly after remdesivir administration and this stops genome replication. The researchers say this may occur because RNA which contains remdesivir obtains a shape which doesn’t fit into the polymerase.
85 countries and territories have been affected by the 2019-2020 outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Over 95,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and over 3,200 people have been confirmed to have died from the disease. The majority of cases have been seen in China, but South Korea, Italy and Iran have also been hit with major outbreaks.
People who are infected by SARS-CoV-2 may be asymptomatic or they may develop symptoms such as cough, fever, shortness of breath, muscle pain or fatigue. Infections sometimes cause more serious symptoms, such as severe pneumonia, sepsis, acute respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock and death. The time between infection and the onset of symptoms ranges from one to 27 days, but is typically around five days.
There are other drugs showing promise in treating COVID-19. Chinese officials recently said that the malaria drug chloroquine has a curative effect on COVID-19. Spanish newspaper El Pais recently reported that a combination of HIV drug Kaletra and interferon beta has successfully treated a COVID-19 patient. China has recently approved favipiravir, an experimental antiviral drug currently being developed by Japan’s Toyama Chemical, as an investigatory therapy for COVID-19 treatment.