The outbreak of COVID-19, caused by the new virus SARS-CoV-2, has spread rapidly across the world. Since the first report from Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, the total numbers of confirmed cases and COVID-19-related deaths worldwide have continued to escalate. Now declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (“WHO”), COVID-19 has already overwhelmed healthcare systems in many countries and is expected to impose a major impact on the world economy.
Scientists and health care workers have been racing to understand this new disease, identify effective therapeutic agents, and develop new vaccines. As a result, a wealth of research has been published in academic journals in recent weeks. To help with these ongoing efforts and facilitate the R&D of drug candidates and vaccines, CAS has published a special report in ACS Central Science. Within a week of its publication, this report has attracted tremendous attention with 48,000 views (downloads).
Drug repurposing: a shortcut to effective COVID-19 treatments
As SARS-CoV-2 is a newly discovered pathogen, specific drugs have yet to be clinically approved. Given the urgent need to find effective COVID-19 drugs and the fact that developing a brand new drug usually takes a decade or longer, an alternative effort of drug repurposing is underway to find COVID-19 treatments faster and more efficiently. Drug repurposing is a strategy for identifying new uses for approved drugs or drug candidates in clinical trials that are outside the scope of the original medical indications. It saves years of work in evaluating how a drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolized and finally eliminated from human bodies. It also reduces the amount of effort in assessing molecule’s therapeutic efficacy and extensive testing needed to determine side effects, potential risks/toxicity, and counter-indications. Our special report examines the ongoing R&D effort on drug repurposing for COVID-19 and includes a list of small molecule drugs or drug candidates possessing such potential.
Could therapeutic agents under development for coronavirus-induced diseases such as SARS and MERS be expanded to COVID-19?
SARS-CoV-2 is a type of coronavirus that encapsulates a single-stranded RNA within a membrane envelope. There are several key proteins involved in the viral infection process of SARS-CoV-2 that may serve as drug targets, including the coronavirus main protease 3CLpro and the viral spike glycoprotein (S protein) on the virus’s surface. These proteins share sequence similarities with those in SARS-CoV (the coronavirus responsible for causing severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)) and MERS-CoV (the coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)). Therefore, many of the existing small molecule drug candidates in development for SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV may also serve as candidates for COVID-19. You can find more about these drug candidates as well as associated literature and patents in our report.
Leveraging prior knowledge used to address the SARS and MERS outbreaks also provides a practical strategy for developing new biologics. In order to unlock the unique insight captured by CAS from the existing data, we identified about 2,200 patents related to SARS and MERS published since 2003. Out of these, we found more than 500 patents relating to therapeutic antibodies, cytokines, interfering RNAs and vaccines for treatment and/or prevention of these coronavirus diseases. The strategies for developing biologic therapeutics contained in these patents may be used to broaden the spectrum of therapeutics for COVID-19.
Using existing vaccine R&D data to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development
Vaccines are vital for controlling COVID-19 pandemic, eliminating its spread, and ultimately preventing its future recurrence. To assist with the effort on this front, we also analyzed the vaccine patents relevant to the SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV viruses to try and uncover newly patented vaccine development technologies that may facilitate the design of anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. In total, around 190 patents related to the development of vaccines for SARS and MERS were identified and are available in our report . The strategies covered in these patents, which are also being used in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, include attenuated virus vaccines, protein-based vaccines, virus-like particle vaccines, DNA-based vaccines and mRNA-based vaccines developed using the most cutting edge technologies. Recently, an mRNA-based vaccine for COVID-19 has been developed at an unprecedented speed and is now in a clinical trial in the US.
Advancing COVID-19 drug development through high-quality data
Given the extensive time and resources involved with therapeutic drug development, the COVID-19 crisis further highlights the importance of applying innovative approaches, including drug repurposing and drug development based on inference from available research from other similar viruses.
Although more work remains to be done, the methodology and results presented in this special report may point to strategies that could help streamline the process of drug development for COVID-19 and provide intellectual groundwork for the ongoing efforts and future breakthroughs.
Underpinning innovative strategies in the R&D of therapeutic agents and vaccines is the insight that skilled and knowledgeable scientists can provide. At CAS, our scientists extract, analyze, aggregate, and organize vast amounts of scientific data contained within published journal literature and patents, making the data discoverable and searchable so scientists can use the information to inspire their research. If you need additional support on collecting and analyzing scientific data related to the coronavirus or other areas, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.