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Cat Drug May Fight Coronavirus in Humans

Veterinarian giving medicine to a cat

Researchers are trying to find existing drugs to battle COVID-19 to cut down on the time involved with bringing a new drug to market. Most drugs being studied are those approved for humans. Now, researchers have found that a drug already proven successful on our feline friends might work for us as well.

The drug works by inhibiting a protease known as Mpro, an enzyme the virus uses to chop up proteins and replicate itself. By blocking the protease, the virus can not reproduce, and its spread inside the body is halted.

The drug, known as prodrug GC376, has been successfully used to fight a coronavirus infection in cats known as feline infectious peritonitis, which, much like SARS-CoV-2, can cause the cat’s body to mount an immune response that can run amok and eventually prove fatal.

In tests, researchers working across four labs at the University of Alberta have shown that the cat drug can stop SARS-CoV-2 from reproducing in test tubes using human cells. They feel confident that the drug will have the same results in the body and are now moving on to clinical trials. Because prodrug GC376 is already approved for use on cats, the approval process should go faster.

“Typically, for a drug to go into clinical trials, it has to be confirmed in the lab and then tested in animal models,” said Joanne Lemieux, a professor of biochemistry in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. “Because this drug has already been used to treat cats with coronavirus, and it’s effective with little to no toxicity, it’s already passed those stages, and this allows us to move forward.”

The findings were initially published on the non-peer-reviewed pre-press research site, BioRxIV, due to the critical nature of finding a cure for COVID-19. “There’s a rule with COVID research that all results need to be made public immediately,” Lemieux said. Since then, it has been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Communications.