PCOM Georgia Researchers Study COVID-19 Drug TargetsOctober 29, 2021
Three department of pharmaceutical sciences associate professors at PCOM Georgia, each with their own expertise, along with doctoral,
graduate and high school students and research assistants, have joined forces to investigate
various strategies for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
The faculty members include Shashidharamurthy Taval, PhD, Vicky Mody, PhD, and Srujana Rayalam, DVM, PhD. The team had a paper published recently on their
research in Communications Biology, an open access journal that publishes research,
reviews and commentary in the biological sciences.
Dr. Taval, who is an immunologist by training, became interested in the virus initially
due to the unique immunological responses seen in the patients affected with COVID-19.
His biochemistry background equipped him to investigate the viral genome replication
and conceive of the idea of COVID-19 virus – specific enzymes as potential drug targets.
He collaborated with Dr. Mody, a medicinal chemist, and Dr. Rayalam, a pharmacologist,
to get the project started.
Dr. Mody said, “Although global vaccination is currently underway, with new variants
emerging, the efficacy of immunization to provide protection against the newer strains
needs to be thoroughly investigated which could be a time-consuming process.
“Currently, there are no anti-COVID-19 specific FDA-approved drugs either for the
treatment of COVID-19 or to help prevent viral spread. Therefore, there is an urgent
need to identify and develop potential therapeutics to prevent the pathogenesis and
rapid spread of the infection.”
The team is studying FDA-approved drugs that could be repurposed to inhibit enzymes
called 3CLpro and PLpro that affect the replication of the COVID-19 causing virus.
These two enzymes are known to speed up the breakdown of the viral protein chain into
smaller, more mature proteins that are required for the replication of the virus.
During the past 18 months, the team used computational molecular modeling to screen
almost 4,000 FDA-approved drugs. From this group, 47 drugs were selected to study
their inhibitory effects on purified viral enzymes. The results indicate that six
of the drugs reduced enzymatic activity.
Drugs that potentially silence the replication of COVID-19 causing virus
They include boceprevir and ombitasvir prescribed for the treatment of Hepatitis C,
paritaprevir, another drug that shows promise for the treatment of Hepatitis C, tipranavir,
which is used to treat HIV, micafungin, an anti-fungal agent, and ivermectin, effective
against parasitic roundworms.
Dr. Mody said the drugs are, for the most part, unrelated.
Dr. Rayalam added, “Our studies show possible mechanism of these agents against COVID-19,
but we believe that additional studies are needed to confirm our results. It is imperative
that we conduct pre-clinical and clinical studies to assess the safety and efficacy
of all of these drugs in inhibiting the replication of the COVID-19 causing virus.”
Dr. Taval said, “This research could be useful in developing highly speciﬁc, therapeutically
viable drugs to inhibit COVID-19 causing virus replication either alone or in combination
with drugs speciﬁc for other COVID-19 viral targets.”
Drug discovery and development
As the team works to develop new drugs to treat COVID-19, pre-clinical studies with
newly developed, small molecular-weight molecules are planned. In addition, the team
is developing an inhaled formulation to deliver drugs directly to the airways where
most respiratory viruses colonize.
Studies are also being conducted to identify natural products derived from plants
that have the potential to reduce the infectivity and spread of the COVID-19 causing
virus through the inhibition of virus specific enzymatic activity.
The team members acknowledge that they have received unconditional support from both
Mindy George-Weinstein, PhD, chief research and science officer, and Avadhesh C. Sharma, PharmD, PhD, chair and professor of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and are thankful
Along with the faculty members, the team includes two research assistants, two PCOM
Georgia biomedical sciences and five doctor of pharmacy students, and two high school student-volunteers from Lambert High School in Suwanee,
Note: This article was updated on November 5, 2021.
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About PCOM Georgia
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated
to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia
College of Osteopathic Medicine, a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied
history. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and
physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, medical laboratory science,
and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM
Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service
to the wider community. For more information, visit pcom.edu/georgia or call 678-225-7500. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center,
an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment.
For more information, visit pcomgeorgiahealth.org.
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