K-State researchers aid in development of possible treatment for COVID-19

Posted at 7:01 PM, Apr 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-25 20:01:03-04

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Chemical compounds patented by researchers at Kansas State University will soon be used to develop a possible treatment for COVID-19.

Two series of protease inhibitors will be used under a new agreement with Cocrystal Pharma, a clinical-stage biotechnology company, according to a press release from Kansas State University.

"Protease inhibitors bind and block the function of the virus protease," said Yunjeong Kim, a virologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University. "Those virus proteases are essential enzymes for virus replication. So if you bind and block them, then the virus cannot replicate anymore."

Kim said there are many steps needed to push these compounds to the next level.

Cocrystal will continue preclinical research with the compounds. Following this stage, the company will begin pharmacokinetics, which is the study of how the compound moves through the body. Eventually there are hopes of using the compound in clinical trials, according to the release.

The ultimate goal is that one of the compounds becomes a drug licensed by the Food and Drug Administration as a possible treatment.

"We are very excited about the potential outcome but we are well aware that there are many obstacles ahead," said Kyeong-Ok "KC" Chang, another virologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University.

This is not the first partnership between Cocrystal and the university. A previous licensing agreement with the company included broad-spectrum antiviral compounds with a focus on norovirus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, known as MERS.

"Doctors Chang and Kim have been working on antivirals and inhibitors for SARS and MERS at K-State for a number of years, so discoveries related to corona and noroviruses are really not surprising," said Peter Dorhout, Vice President for Research at Kansas State University.

Dorhout added that some discoveries made by the virologists for treating fatal feline coronavirus translate well for understanding COVID-19. He said this emphasizes the “critical connection between basic virology research on animal and human diseases."