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TAMU researchers say potential COVID-19 treatment could be a 'gamechanger'

The drug compound has shown promise in various studies, but the FDA must still give it the green light.

SAN ANTONIO — A Texas A&M research team led by professor and biological chemist Wenshe Ray Li has created a drug considered to be one of the most effective treatments against the coronavirus and aggressive variants. The professor says it could be available for patients by next summer.

Liu said when the pandemic started, he made a vow that he would find a treatment for the coronavirus. As the coronavirus began to rapidly spread, people were urged to work from home. 

But he said most of his team members chose to stay.

“I said, 'I really need you guys right now. I know the situation is not that great.' I said, 'You’re putting yourself in certain danger when you come here, but we are doing something which can change the human society,'” Liu recalled. 

He said his team created a drug compound called MPI8. During lab tests, he said, it stopped the replication of the coronavirus and aggressive variants. He said the drug targets an essential enzymes of the virus.

“We focused on this enzyme and we thought it would be a viable target for COVID-19. We actually developed a number of compounds, I think the total number was about 150. So the MPI8 is the best one,” he said. “This compound is actually 10 times better than the Merc compound, which is going through clinical trial right now.”

Liu said while current vaccines provide protection, MPI8 could be a permanent solution.

“The vaccine is targeting one of the highly mutable genes in SARS-CoV. So, that’s the reason why we see different kinds of strains showing up because vaccine is driving the virus to evolve,” Liu explained. 

He says they have teamed up with the California-based company Sorrento Therapeutics. They hope to finish pre-clinical studies of the drug compound by the end of the year. 

The goal will then be to seek FDA approval to start clinical trials on humans in 2022. Liu said if the trials go well, the drug could be available as early as next summer.  

“We can live a normal life and probably can see eradication of this virus,” he said. “It’s going to be a game changer.”

Remdesivir was the first treatment for coronavirus that was approved by the FDA. Texas A&M said in a press release about MPI8 that a wide range of potential treatments are in early stages of research, including several others being pursued by Sorrento. A few other treatments have FDA’s emergency use authorization. It added that in January 2020, Liu was among the co-authors of the first paper to identify remdesivir as a viable treatment for SARS-C0V-2.    

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