New Drug May Bypass SARS-CoV-2 Blockade Of Innate Immune Response

Scientists have identified a small molecule drug that might prevent and treat Covid-19 by targeting a cellular gene that bypasses SARS-CoV-2 blockade of the innate immune response. The drug, diABZI, is currently undergoing phase II clinical trials as a potential cancer treatment.

So far, the search for Covid-19 drugs has yet to yield a product comparable in efficacy and utility to the mRNA vaccines created by Moderna and Pfizer. Remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies, the two FDA-approved treatments we currently have on hand, may be moderately effective, but they can only be administered intravenously in hospital settings.

Early on in the pandemic, experts thought interferon-based drugs would make a potent Covid-19 treatment. Interferon is a signaling protein the body relies on to activate critical immune sensing pathways, and studies showed that SARS-CoV-2 either actively inhibited or evaded it. If a virus goes to great lengths to avoid triggering interferon, it makes logical sense that loading up on interferon would succeed as a countermeasure. But clinical trials testing interferon drugs fell short of expectations, yielding mixed results.

Interferon may have been an obvious choice, but obvious in theory doesn’t always translate to success in practice. The problem isn’t necessarily that interferons don’t work. Using them so directly might just be too blunt an approach. New research, published in the journal Science Immunology in May 2021, suggests that using a small molecule drug to preemptively trigger the innate immune response downstream from interferons—specifically, the STING pathway—might do the trick instead.

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Originally published on Forbes (June 3, 2021)

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.