Duke Professor Part of Pioneering COVID-19 Research

Duke researchers may have made a breakthrough in treating COVID-19 this week with a scientific study showing a new way to fight the virus.

Amanda Hargrove, a chemistry professor at Duke University, is part of the collegiate team investigating RNA viruses. Their research, published Friday, identifies three chemical compounds that may block the ability of the COVID-19 virus to replicate itself and spread throughout the body.

The team of researchers is hopeful that the discovery will lead to a new ‘small molecule’ drug that can treat people infected with COVID-19. although vaccines are widely available“Effective, easy-to-administer drugs to help people survive and recover once infected remain limited,” according to a Duke press release.

The coronavirus works by breaking into your body’s cells, delivering genetic information in the form of RNA, then hijacking[ing] the body’s molecular machinery to make new copies of itself,” the press release said.

β€œThe infected cell becomes a virus factory and reads the [RNA] and producing the proteins the virus needs to multiply and spread.”

Existing drugs for COVID-19, such as remdesivir and Paxlovid, fight the virus by binding proteins. A “small molecule” antiviral, on the other hand, works by binding to RNA itself. The first such drug, to treat people with spinal muscular atrophy, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in August.

Hargrove and her colleagues β€” including Blanton Tolbert of Case Western Reserve University and Gary Brewer and Mei-Ling Li of Rutgers β€” have patented their method and plan to modify the chemical compounds to make them more potent. The next step would then be to test them in mice “to see if this could be a viable drug candidate,” Hargrove said.

It can even treat other coronaviruses, not just SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“These are the first molecules with antiviral activity that specifically target the RNA of the virus, so it’s a completely new mechanism in that sense,” Hargrove said. “This is a new way of thinking about antivirals for RNA viruses.”

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