A drug created by a Texas A&M University professor could be the most effective treatment yet for patients with COVID-19, including more aggressive variants of the virus such as Delta and others.
The drug compound, called MPI8, has stopped the replication of the virus in laboratory tests. It was created by a Texas A&M research team led by biological chemist Wenshe Ray Liu, a 2018 Texas A&M Presidential Impact Fellow and holder of the Gradipore Chair in the Department of Chemistry.
The potential effectiveness of MPI8 led Sorrento Therapeutics of San Diego, Calif., to seek exclusive intellectual property rights to the ingredient. An agreement between the company and the Texas A&M University System was announced Tuesday.
Liu said that Sorrento hopes to complete preclinical studies of MPI8 by the end of the year and seek FDA approval to begin clinical trials on humans in early 2022.
MPI8 could be the best weapon yet in the fight against the COVID-19 virus, Liu said.
“As far as we know, this is the most potent small molecule that inhibits SARS-CoV-2 from infecting human cells,” he said. “If it can be approved clinically, this will be a game changer.”
Only one treatment, a drug called remdesivir, has been approved by the FDA, and studies indicate it may provide only modest benefit to patients. A few other treatments have the FDA’s emergency use authorization. A wide range of potential treatments are in early stages of research, including several others being pursued by Sorrento.
In January 2020, Liu was among the co-authors of the first paper to identify remdesivir as a viable treatment for SARS-CoV-2. He also was co-leader of a previous study that in February called for clinical trials of the FDA-approved heart medication bepridil to treat COVID-19 based on its significant effectiveness in interfering with the virus’ entry into human cell hosts.
Liu said MPI8 shows the potential to be highly effective in treating not only the original COVID-19 viral strain, but also the more aggressive strains such as Delta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
The Delta variant was first identified in India in December of 2020. In just a few months, it spread to 98 countries around the world, becoming the dominant variant in numerous nations, including India, the U.K., Israel and the United States.
Delta is now responsible for almost 85 percent of the COVID-19 cases being reported in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Henry Ji, chairman and CEO of Sorrento, said the new findings by Liu and his team might turn out to be critical in the fight against COVID-19 and other diseases.
“We are excited to be collaborating with Dr. Liu and his team at Texas A&M and look forward to advancing the development of these novel drug candidates to address COVID-19 and a multitude of other respiratory viruses,” Ji said.
To learn more about the Liu group and related research, visit https://www.chem.tamu.edu/rgroup/liu/.
See related news segments from KENS 5 in San Antonio (August 25), ABC 13 Houston (August 26) and KVOE-TV 23 Brownsville (August 30) as well as a feature from the Bryan-College Station Eagle (August 29).
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