Reusing existing drugs to fight new variants of COVID-19

EAST LANSING, MI – Michigan State University (MSU) researchers use big data and AI identify current drugs that could be applied to treat new variants of COVID-19.

Finding new ways to treat the novel coronavirus and its ever-evolving variants has been a challenge for researchers, especially when the traditional drug development and discovery process can take years. A Michigan State University researcher and his team are taking a high-tech approach to determining whether drugs already on the market can play a dual role in treating new variants of COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 virus is a challenge as it continues to evolve,” said Bin Chen, associate professor at the College of Human Medicine. “By using artificial intelligence and very large datasets, we can reuse old drugs for new uses.”

Chen has assembled an international team of researchers specializing in topics ranging from biology to computer science to meet this challenge. First, Chen and his team turned to publicly available databases to extract the unique coronavirus gene expression signatures from 1,700 host transcriptomic profiles from patient tissues, cultures cells and mouse models. These signatures revealed the shared biology of COVID-19 and its variants.

With the virus signature and knowing which genes need to be deleted and which genes need to be turned on, the team was able to use a computer program to screen a drug library of FDA-approved or experimental drugs to find candidates that could fix expression. signature genes and further inhibit coronavirus replication. Chen and his team have discovered a new candidate, IMD-0354, a drug that has successfully passed phase I clinical trials for the treatment of atopic dermatitis. A group in Korea later observed that it was 90 times more effective against six variants of COVID-19 than remdesivir, the first drug approved to treat COVID-19. The team further found that IMD-0354 prevented the virus from copying itself by stimulating immune response pathways in host cells. Based on the information learned, the researchers investigated a prodrug of IMD-0354 called IMD-1041. A prodrug is an inactive substance that is metabolized in the body to create an active drug.

“IMD-1041 is even more promising because it’s available orally and has been studied for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe,” Chen said. . “Because the structure of IMD-1041 is undisclosed, we are developing a new artificial intelligence platform to design new compounds that hopefully could be tested and evaluated in more advanced animal models. .”

– This press release was originally published on the Michigan State University website

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