New Drugs, Repurposed Drugs, Vaccines and Serum


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Never before has a disease triggered as much research in such a short amount of time in the field of drug development as coronavirus has. Groups of researchers, pharmacists and physicians all over the world are working flat out to find a cure or a vaccine, including several Hungarian teams.

Universities and labs as well as players in the healthcare industry have teamed up to deliver results fast. Here we present a roundup of some of the work and the progress made so far.

At the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM) gave several research centers and universities the mandate to develop a drug that could prevent the development of the disease.

The goal of the drug, developed jointly by players including Richter Gedeon Nyrt., the University of Pécs and ImmunoGenes Kft., is to prevent the virus from binding to the ACE2 receptor and thereby infecting it.

Another area of research is identifying existing drugs that could be repurposed for new therapeutic goals. During a pandemic such as this, when researchers are hard pressed for time to deliver results, drug repositioning can offer a time and cost-efficient means to doing so.

This is due to the fact that with the use of an active ingredient whose human safety and biological properties are supported by potentially decades of therapeutic experience, researchers can shorten the pre-clinical phase of drug development and can move on to clinical trials. Reposition-innovation is also much less costly than developing a new molecule.

In Hungary, the University of Pécs, headed by Ferenc Jakab is focusing on identifying active ingredients that have already been used successfully for other diseases.

Set up in March, the Coronavirus Action Group of which Jakab and his team are members, is not only looking at the mechanisms of virus entry or replication and interaction with the host, but also host reactions, immune responses and inflammatory processes, infection and its consequences.

Multi-target Ingredient

In this way, they can create a multi-target ingredient or drug combinations that can lead to wide-spectrum therapy substances. So far, the team has selected about 30 drug molecules for testing in the project, and biological studies have also begun.One drug with potential is Favipiravir, which is a broad-spectrum antiviral drug developed in 2014 in Japan against influenza infection. Clinical trials conducted by the research team with several Hungarian universities and hospitals aim to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of Favipiravir against coronavirus.ITM assigned four projects to the Hungarian Clinical Research Infrastructure Network (HECRIN) related to the coronavirus epidemic. One of these is the clinical trial of Favipiravir. Another study analyzes the genetic characteristics of COVID-patients, examining whether there is a genetic reason for the huge differences in the course and severity of the infection between individual patients. In the absence of a specific drug, several existing drugs are now being used by physicians to treat coronavirus infections all of which have been developed for a different disease.

A step down from the repurposing process, these drugs seek to treat similar symptoms. Among these are chloroquine, hydrochloroquine, and lopinavir and ritonavir that have been shown to be effective against, for example, malaria. These can and have been used for the treatment of patients whose condition is less severe but still need hospitalization. Researchers of the Szeged Biological Research Center (SZBK) together with its international partners at the U.K.’s Bristol University have discovered a receptor through which the virus can enter the host cell. The discovery is crucial as many researchers in the world are trying to better understand the process of the infection to provide effective treatment.

AI and Plasma

Besides Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which has already been identified as a means through which the virus can enter the cell, the neuropilin-1 (NRP1) receptor can be another target that opens a new path in the defense against the coronavirus.

The team has developed a method that is unique in the world, based on artificial intelligence and deep learning. A serum prepared from the blood plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients is another treatment under development and, in fact, already at use.

The immune system of a coronavirus patient produces an antibody, which can help fight defeat the disease. A ready-made antibody can be extracted from the plasma of healed and already healthy people by a special procedure. This is a great help for patients with a weakened immune system, as they are ready to receive the antibody that kills the virus in their body.

To date, several recovered patients have donated their plasma in various parts of the country. That has been processed and a serum prepared that can last up to two or three years. Plasma therapy has been used on several coronavirus patients in health facilities in the country who have been removed from the ventilator and whose treatment has accelerated after receiving plasma, the doctors say.

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