Researchers discover oral drug to block SARS transmission

Georgia State Institute for Biomedical Science Researches discovered a drug that suppresses COVID-19 transmission. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

Georgia State Institute for Biomedical Science Researches recently discovered an oral drug called MK-4482/EIDD-2801 that can stop the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the human body within 24 hours after infection. 

Dr. Richard Plemper, a distinguished university professor at Georgia State, discovered this with his group. According to Georgia State News Hub, they initially found this drug is effective in killing the flu virus

He said this drug “could be game-changing” because no other oral drug discovered can suppress the SARS-CoV-2 transmission so quickly. 

In his research, published in the journal Nature, Plemper found that the drug “has broad-spectrum activity against respiratory RNA viruses.” It also “lowers the amount of shed viral particles by several orders of magnitude” after the infected animals have had the oral drug, which significantly suppresses virus transmission.

Plemper’s team used ferrets to test how this drug works to block virus transmission. Dr. Robert Cox, a postdoctoral researcher in his team, said this is because ferrets usually don’t show severe symptoms despite spreading COVID easily, which is similar to how COVID spreads among young people. 

According to doctoral student Josef Wolf, the co-lead author of this study, the treated ferrets didn’t get infected, while all those receiving the placebo were infected in the same cage with the ferrets that carry the virus.

Therefore, if interpreting these data from a human’s perspective, this drug can stop the virus transmission from COVID-19 patients 24 hours after receiving the treatment. In other words, as the Georgia State News Hub states, they will be “non-infectious.”

Currently, MK-4482/EIDD-2801 is in clinical trials to further test its effectiveness.

According to Georgia State News Hub, the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funded Georgia State researchers to do this study.

Since COVID-19 vaccines are not available to everyone, reducing transmission is very important, as this can effectively reduce the number of people getting infected.

The Washington Post states that in addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and Moderna vaccine that are already in use, scientists are developing over 200 experimental COVID vaccines.

However, to end the COVID-19 pandemic with only a vaccine may not be possible because the SARS-CoV-2 virus can mutate quickly. People have identified more than 10 different COVID variants around the world. 

Therefore, it’s not clear whether the vaccines can protect everyone against COVID forever.

This mutating condition is similar to the flu. The WHO holds a meeting every February to predict which flu virus strain will most probably circulate during that year’s flu season to enable vaccine manufacturers to produce enough vaccines for people. 

However, forecasts are not 100% accurate, as the virus quickly mutates. The flu may have already changed some of its patterns by the time vaccines are ready for use. Hence, the CDC states that seasonal flu vaccines only have an effectiveness rate of between 19% and 60%.

Also, since the flu virus mutates each year, people need to receive flu shots each year. No vaccine can protect people against the flu forever. 

As a result, Baozhong Wang, another professor at Georgia State Institute for Biomedical Sciences, is trying to develop a vaccine effective against any COVID variants and other coronaviruses that share similar genetic traits.

Wang told Georgia State University Research Magazine that a vaccine effective to any COVID variant is “the ultimate countermeasure against the pandemic,” although few researchers focus on this.

Coronaviruses attack and enter human cells by using their spike proteins to approach the cell’s surface. Hence, destroying the spike protein is the essence of an effective vaccine.

First, Wang researched the flu. Current flu vaccines only fight against the head of the virus’s surface protein. Therefore, he tested targeting the inner part of the surface protein that is the same in all flu viruses.

According to Georgia State University Research Magazine, these vaccines “have shown great potential in inducing broad immune responses, protecting the recipient against all flu viruses.”

Wang thinks the same approach in his studies on the flu can also develop a universal vaccine for COVID, i.e., targeting the proteins commonly shared in all coronavirus strains to enable the body to develop immunity to all those viruses. 

Many COVID patients died because their immune system developed a severe overreaction called “cytokine storm” when fighting against COVID, which severely hurt their bodies.

Thus, a successful vaccine should not only strengthen people’s immunity against the virus but also ensure public health overall.

In addition to the medical researchers, computer scientists are also studying COVID-19. Juan M. Banda, an assistant professor in the Georgia State Department of Computer Science, had analyzed over 700 million COVID-related Twitter data since March 2020. 

Georgia State University Research Magazine states that the data he analyzed “provided insights” on how people’s lives give impetus to the pandemic’s development from many perspectives such as travel, diagnoses and treatment. 

Banda did this research with Gerardo Chowell, a professor in the School of Public Health. 

Chowell said the data could enable researchers to study various subjects, such as how COVID-related misinformation spreads, how the difference of geographic areas affect the spread of COVID, and how social distancing contributed to controlling the pandemic. 

Different from how medical scientists study COVID, Banda said instead of focusing on medical fields such as infection rates and deaths, he is analyzing these data to understand things like how people get information and what they think about the government’s measures on the pandemic, which tells people about the pandemic’s effects from another perspective

Banda thinks researchers can gain foresight from these data to develop systems that can perceive transmission in communities to prevent potential pandemics.

Although most COVID-19 symptoms are respiratory illnesses, Georgia State researchers found that the virus can also hide in the human brain

According to WSB-TV, lead researcher Dr. Mukesh Kumar, an associate professor in the Department of Biology, told them they discovered from their research on mice that the virus might like to hide in the human brain even after the person tests negative

He said the virus favors being in the brain because “there is no immune response” in the brain, making it safe for viruses to hide. 

In the brain, viruses can hurt the central nervous system, which causes typical symptoms of loss of smell and taste.

He also noted that many people who recovered from COVID “have some sort of brain dysfunction.” 

As a result, he emphasizes the importance of covering the nose with a mask to prevent the virus from entering the brain through the nose.


Editors note: A section of this article used an incorrect source link. It has been updated for accuracy (01/26/2021, 1:34 p.m.)