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Cancer Investigators Pivot, Take on Coronavirus Research

Friday, June 12, 2020

While other cancer researchers had to temporarily close their labs in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Isaac Harris, Ph.D., and Josh Munger, Ph.D., shifted their focus to the contagion that has reshaped the world.

Using their specialized knowledge of viruses and genomics technology at the Wilmot Cancer Institute, the duo is searching for new and existing, U.S Food and Drug Administration-approved medications that could block the coronavirus.

They’ve tested 624 drugs on thousands of human lung cells infected with a strain of the coronavirus to see if the drugs have any impact. So far, they’ve discovered 15 potential compounds that appear to have anti-viral activity. Their criteria for a “hit” is for the drug to block 50 percent of virus-induced cell death. The team is validating the 15 drugs and trying to understand the mechanisms behind their potential anti-viral activity, Harris said.

This type of research is known as high-throughput drug screening – a process that plays a big role in drug discovery in modern medicine. But instead of finding a new drug, here, investigators are looking to repurpose existing, available drugs for treatment of the coronavirus. This involves using automated, robotic equipment to match drug candidates with cellular events that occur during disease transformation. This form of drug-screening is often less expensive and faster than developing treatments from scratch.

Read More: Cancer Investigators Pivot, Take on Coronavirus Research