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Team of Texas A&M researchers identify potential new drug to treat COVID-19

Waco-Temple-Bryan KBTX-TV logo Waco-Temple-Bryan KBTX-TV 3/2/2021 Andy Krauss
a sign on the side of a building: A team of Texas A&M researchers have potentially identified a previously FDA-approved drug, bepridil, as an effective treatment for COVID-19. © Provided by Waco-Temple-Bryan KBTX-TV A team of Texas A&M researchers have potentially identified a previously FDA-approved drug, bepridil, as an effective treatment for COVID-19.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - A team of Texas A&M researchers has identified a potential new drug to treat COVID-19.

The drug, known as bepridil, is used to treat a heart condition called Angina. The team’s leader, Texas A&M Department of Chemistry Professor Wenshe Liu, says it received FDA approval back in the 1990s. If bepridil eventually receives authorization to treat COVID-19, it would be only the second FDA-approved treatment for the virus along with Remdesivir.

”Most of the time when you do drug repurposing, you will find something, but a lot of the time those medications are not that efficient,” Liu said. “But this one, the bepridil, it turned out to be exceptional, actually. It showed really high potency in preventing the virus from replicating in cells.”

Liu says his team used artificial intelligence to screen medications already with FDA approval to find out which ones could have success against COVID-19. They then ran their own experiments to confirm the results.

“We targeted the one enzyme which is essential for the virus to replicate in the human cell, and then we used a computer to screen FDA-approved medication and see which one could incubate this particular enzyme,” Liu said. “Then we tested the real SARS CoV-2 virus infection on a human cell to actually demonstrate that the bepridil is the only one that is really effective in preventing the virus from replicating inside a human cell host.”

Liu believes bepridil could be a more promising treatment than Remdesivir because it’s had FDA approval for a much longer period of time, therefore doctors and scientists are more familiar with the drug’s long-term effects. Remdesivir was granted FDA approval less than five months ago in October 2020.

“The bepridil is a little different story because it’s been an established drug about 30 years already,” Liu said. “We know it is very effective for treating heart disease, and we know enough about the human metabolism of this medication inside the body. I would think the bepridil would have a better chance than Remdesivir in fighting against SARS CoV-2 because the long-term effects of Remdesivir are not known yet.”

Liu’s team is working with another team from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) on this research. Liu says his team has the approval to test the drug on mice in animal trials. They are already discussing what clinical trials for humans could look like.

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