Potential cell targets for treating COVID-19 discovered by scientists in Germany

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Scientists in Germany have identified potential cellular targets for treating SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“A team of biochemists and virologists at Goethe University in Frankfurt and the Frankfurt University Hospital were able to observe how human cells change upon infection with SARS-CoV-2,” explained Goethe University in a statement. “The scientists tested a series of compounds in laboratory models and found some which slowed down or stopped virus reproduction.”

The research project, which started less than three months ago, is already being harnessed for drug testing.

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Scientists, for example, discovered that one of the substances that stopped viral reproduction in a cell culture system was 2-Deoxy-D-Glucose (2-DG). The substance interferes directly with the carbohydrate metabolism necessary for viral reproduction, they said.

Last month, Houston-based Moleculin Biotech announced an agreement with ImQuest Biosciences to expand testing of WP1 122, its drug candidate for COVID-19 treatment. The announcement followed Goethe University’s discovery that 2-DG, which is the active compound in WP1122, inhibited SARS-CoV–2 replication in susceptible cell lines, Moleculin said.

Another substance tested in Frankfurt, the antiviral Ribavirin, forms part of a clinical study sponsored by Canadian firm Bausch Health Americas.

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Experts warn that people should not take drugs unless prescribed by a doctor.

A study detailing the research is published in the journal Nature.

Experts at Frankfurt University Hospital have been in possession of a SARS-CoV-2 infection cell culture system since the start of February. Scientists cultivated the virus in colon cells taken from two infected people returning from Wuhan, China, according to the Goethe University statement.

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Researchers used the mePROD method, a mass spectrometry technique recently developed by Institute for Biochemistry II at Goethe University.

“This method makes it possible to determine the amount and synthesis rate of thousands of proteins within a cell,” the scientists explained in the statement. “The findings paint a picture of the progression of a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“A SARS-CoV-2 infection leads to an increased protein synthesis machinery in the cell,” the scientists explained. “The researchers suspected this was a weak spot of the virus and were indeed able to significantly reduce virus reproduction using something known as translation inhibitors, which shut down protein production.”

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As of Thursday morning, more than 4.37 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, at least 1,390,764 of which are in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The disease has accounted for at least 297,682 deaths around the world, including at least 84,136 people in the U.S.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers