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Scientists to develop faster ways to tackle COVID-19

hyperdurmic needle going into a vial.

By Juliano Oliveira

Australia’s national science agency (CSIRO) has announced a $1.7 million project targeting the development of faster, more innovative ways of rapidly screening existing drugs and improving what is already available to treat COVID-19.

Within a year, scientists expect to have identified three suitable approved medications to progress to phase 2-3 human clinical trials. The project has been boosted by the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

The investigation draws on the practical and affordable COVID-19 treatments that specifically targeted the virus.

“A great strategy to find potential COVID-19 treatments is to repurpose drugs already approved for other diseases, but the current methods to do this are expensive, time-consuming and not fit-for-purpose,” CSIRO scientist and project leader Dr S.S. Vasan said.

“The MRFF funding will enable us to develop a multi-tissue drug screening tool, tailored for infections by SARS-CoV-2 and all its variants of concern, which could help fast-track drugs for phase 2-3 human clinical trials and minimise the need for animal trials.”

Scientists will conduct tests in the lower respiratory tract, lung, neural and cardiac tissue, preferable areas of infection by COVID-19. The outcomes will allow them to determine if a drug can reliably restore a diseased tissue to a healthier state.

Barwon Health’s Director of Infectious Diseases and project collaborator, Professor Eugene Athan, said the lower respiratory tract and lung models are appropriate because they play a crucial role in severe infections.

“The neural and cardiac tissues are highly relevant because this disease is now known to cause neurologic disorders, heart dysfunction and damage in some patients,” Professor Athan said.

This initiative builds on an ongoing systems biology collaboration on the long-term impacts of COVID-19 through the Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases, comprising Barwon Health, CSIRO and Deakin University.

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