Stroke drug could open the doors for COVID-19 treatment

Last February, for the first time in history, clinical trial outcomes at UHN showed that a drug may slow the devastating damage that strokes can cause to the brain. Now, this breakthrough medication is opening up exciting possibilities for finding a treatment for COVID-19.

Research results of the “neuroprotective” stroke drug nerenetide – also known as NA-1 – were due to the tireless efforts of Dr. Michael Tymianski, a senior scientist at the Krembil Brain Institute.

“The study showed that the drug improved outcomes for about 20 per cent of patients who underwent a standard surgical procedure for stroke,” explains Dr. Tymianski. “The expanded window for treatment the medication appears to offer could mean the difference between paralysis or death, and a functional, independent life.”

A new direction: treating COVID-19

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Tymianski’s team has turned its attention to the fight against this devastating virus – work that builds on the recent stroke breakthrough.

“Research has shown that the degree to which the COVID-19 virus can produce sickness is believed to be related to a very small protein sequence on its envelope protein,” explains Dr. Tymianski – the envelope protein being a small, protective membrane involved in several aspects the virus’ life cycle. “Blocking the ability of this small protein sequence from binding its target in the human host is reported to neutralize the virus.”

As the NA-1 drug is based on blocking proteins that could damage the brain during a stroke, Dr. Tymianski and his team are well-versed in this work, and feel confident that they can build on their knowledge to help find a solution for COVID-19.

“Simply put, we believe that we can develop a compound similar to our stroke drug that may be a treatment for people infected with the COVID-19 virus,” says Dr. Tymianski.

To properly undertake this work, Dr. Tymianski has received funding for a peptide synthesizer machine thanks to generous donor support. As a crucial component in developing a drug for COVID-19, the equipment enables scientists to quickly manufacture numerous candidates.

“Having our own equipment makes an enormous difference conducting the research,” explains Dr. Tymianski. “Rather than the six or eight weeks it would take to process each iteration using a commercial manufacturer, there is a turnaround time of only 24 hours, which is obviously crucial when you need results as quickly as possible – and this wouldn’t have been possible without donor support.”

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