Infex Therapeutics scientists have announced a breakthrough in laboratory trials of a new drug to treat Covid-19 and new variants of the disease, such as the Omicron variant.
Infex’s COV-X programme inhibits a new protease target that is responsible for viral replication across the broad spectrum of SARS-CoV-1, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. As such, this new approach is unaffected by changes to coronavirus spike protein that is the focus of current concerns about vaccine effectiveness.
Laboratory results at Infex have identified new compounds with a balance of high potency, and encouraging all-round properties including solubility, in-vitro metabolism, plasma-protein binding, and permeability – which are all important factors in achieving oral bioavailability, the key to a successful new drug that could be taken in simple tablet form, rather than by injection.
Leading compounds have shown excellent exposure when dosed orally in mice, enabling studies which could lead to eventual clinical trials in volunteers and Covid-19 patients.
Dr Peter Jackson, Executive Director of Infex, commented: “These new compounds work by targeting a key protease essential for viral replication. The inhibitors we are developing will help meet a desperate clinical need for innovative anti-viral agents which are effective in treating breakthrough cases, unvaccinated and high-risk patients, leading to reduced hospitalisation and pressure on healthcare systems, and lower death rates.
“In the event of a new coronavirus threat emerging in the coming years, our new drug could also be administered as a precautionary measure to vulnerable groups including the elderly, immunocompromised people and healthcare workers, potentially greatly reducing the health risks until a bespoke vaccine is produced.
“The UK has been a leader in responding to the Covid-19 vaccine challenge but the impact of coronavirus is far from over and the emergence of Omicron underlines the importance of continued significant investment in programs such as COV-X that will help deliver new treatments that are badly needed.”
If successfully developed the treatment could form a first line of defence against new strains of SARS-CoV-2 variants – such as Omicron – and may have utility for use in future pandemics, as the protease target is present in different coronavirus strains and species.
The next step in the COV-X programme will be to fine tune the drug properties and establish safety, before clinical trials can be possible, and the company is looking to secure new government funding and investment to fast-track the program towards clinical trials.
The Cov-X programme is being delivered in in partnership with the University of Liverpool and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and supported by the Medicines Discovery Catapult at Alderley Park.
Infex Therapeutics is also part of iiCON, the infectious disease innovation consortium led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and supported by the Strength in Places Fund.
Image credit: Gerd Altmann