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New research finds a drug that could treat COVID-19 variants

Digital picture of a COVID-19 cell.

By Claire Matthews

Research conducted by QUT has found a new drug that could be used to treat patients with COVID-19 and its variants. 

The new drug acts to stop the virus spikes from binding to cells and protect the cells from infection. Researchers have also identified a new targetable site on the COVID-19 protein. 

QUT PhD researcher Zachariah Schuurs said these findings are an important step in understanding how the virus interacts with cells. 

“Binding of the CoV-2 spike protein to heparan sulphate (HS) on cell surfaces is generally the first step in a cascade of interactions the virus needs to initiate infection and enter the cell.

“We have identified a novel binding site on a different area of the virus’s spike that facilitates the binding of HS. This helps to better understand how the virus infects cells.

“Targeting this site with a known anticoagulant drug similar to HS is a possible strategy to stop the virus binding to cells and infecting them.”

This research is also important in terms of finding new ways to combat the virus in areas where vaccination rates are low. 

Dr Neha Gandhi from the QUT Centre for Genomics and Personalised Health said vaccines are far from being accessible.

“We need alternative antiviral strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and treat infected people.

“Epidemiologists believe that persistent low-vaccine coverage in many countries will make it more likely for vaccine-resistant mutations to appear.

“Variants of concern have already emerged in South Africa, the US, India and Brazil. In this regard, alternate antiviral strategies are strongly needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to treat people with COVID-19.”

The multi-national study has been published in the Computation and Structural Biotechnology Journal. Various researchers from QUT, Curtin University and Zucero Pharmaceuticals conceptualised the study. 

Collaborators included scientists from the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control in the UK, the Istituto di Ricerche Chimiche e Biochimiche in Italy, the University of Liverpool and Keele University.

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