The good thing about these natural compounds is that they go after the cells, not the virus. This stops the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading and helps the cell heal faster.

The finding opens the door to the development of novel, naturally derived COVID-19 drugs. Given nature’s abundance, there may be a plethora of novel antivirals just waiting to be found.

In an effort to discover novel antiviral drugs that might be used to treat COVID-19 mutations like omicron, an international group of researchers headed by UBC scientists recently examined a collection of more than 350 substances obtained from natural sources such as plants, fungus, and marine sponges.

According to senior author Dr. François Jean, “this interdisciplinary research team is unraveling the important possibilities of biodiversity and natural resources and discovering nature-based solutions for global health challenges such as COVID-19.”

The researchers discovered 26 compounds that completely inhibited viral infection in the cells by bathing human lung cells in solutions produced from these compounds and then infecting the cells with SARS-CoV-2.

Three tiny dosages worked

According to co-first author Dr. Jimena Pérez-Vargas, “the advantage of these compounds is that they are targeting the cells, rather than the virus, blocking the virus from replicating and helping the cell to recover.”

“Human cells evolve more slowly than viruses, so these compounds could work against future variants and other viruses such as influenza if they use the same mechanisms.”

The researchers employed a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes infected cells to fluoresce fluorescent green, together with a particular screening approach, to discover the top 26 naturally occurring substances that inhibited COVID-19 infection with little cell damage.

“With it, experimentally laborious steps are made redundant so we can easily and quickly check thousands of compounds. Even more important, with it we have the option to track SARS-CoV-2 ‘live’ as it propagates from one cell to another,” adds co-author Dr. Tirosh Shapira.

Compounds from Canada

The compounds, known as alotaketal C, bafilomycin D, and holyrine A, were respectively extracted from a sea sponge in Howe Sound, B.C., marine bacteria in Barkley Sound, B.C., and marine bacteria in Newfoundland waters.

According to co-author Dr. Raymond Andersen, professor in the department of chemistry, they been “been collecting things for 40 years all over the world, but these three just happen to be Canadian, and two are from B.C.”

Additional research revealed that the three substances were as safe for human cells as existing COVID-19 treatments while also being effective against the delta type and various omicron mutations.

Because the omicron virus is changing, many of these therapies are no longer effective against presently prevalent omicron strains. According to Dr. Jean, this shows how urgently new antivirals are needed.

Combining antivirals

They examined the effectiveness of using the compound bafilomycin D in conjunction with a recently discovered COVID-19 antiviral called N-0385.

They discovered that the substance and molecule combined to effectively combat the BA omicron subvariant.

According to Dr. Jean, this points to a viable starting point for creating multiple therapies for omicron subtypes that are effective in treating COVID-19 and other viruses.

Within the following six months, the researchers want to test the compounds on animals.

According to Dr. Jean, “Our research is also paving the way for large-scale testing of natural product medicines that can block infection associated with other respiratory viruses of great concern in Canada and around the world, such as influenza A and RSV.”

Source: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2022.105484

Image Credit: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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