Advertising


News

Could a pill beat COVID-19? Pfizer is giving it a go


Peter Wark


2/06/2021 3:18:58 PM

While the focus has been largely on vaccines, Pfizer is trialling a pill that directly targets SARS-CoV-2.

Pfizer logo
Other attempted COVID treatments do not target SARS-CoV-2 itself, but the consequences of infection. (Image: AAP)

It almost sounds too good to be true. Indeed, the results are very preliminary, but it is a promising approach.

Where most antiviral agents we have tried to treat COVID-19 target the inflammatory and immune response resulting from infection, Pfizer’s pill directly targets SARS-CoV-2 – the virus itself.

Mounting our defence against the virus
Much of the illness associated with COVID-19 is due to the intense inflammatory and immune response that can occur with an infection. The most successful treatments so far have targeted this overzealous immune response.
 
Taken early in the disease, the inhaled corticosteroid budesonide has been shown to reduce the development of more severe disease.
 
In people hospitalised with COVID-19 requiring oxygen, the oral corticosteroid dexamethasone reduces the likelihood of death.
 
In the most severe causes – COVID patients admitted to the ICU – the anti-inflammatory tocilizumab administered intravenously gives a person a better chance of survival.
 
But these treatments do not target SARS-CoV-2 itself; just the consequences of infection. Directly targeting the virus has proven to be more difficult.

Targeting SARS-CoV-2
A virus like SARS-CoV-2 must enter a host cell to reproduce. It does this using its spike protein to attach to the cell, and then it uses the cell’s own proteins to gain entry.

Once inside the cell, SARS-CoV-2 removes its outer coat and releases its viral RNA. This acts as a template, allowing the virus to replicate and then infect other cells. At any point of this life cycle the virus could be vulnerable to an intervention.

SARS-CoV-2 carries an enzyme, 3C-like protease (3CLpro), which plays a crucial role in the replication process. This protease is almost identical to the protease used by the SARS-CoV-1 (SARS) virus, and similar to the protease used by the Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus (MERS).

So a drug that could effectively target 3CLpro and prevent virus replication could be beneficial against multiple known coronaviruses, and possibly any that emerge in the future.

Protease inhibitors have been successfully used to treat other viral infections, especially chronic infections such as HIV and hepatitis C.

They were put forward early in the pandemic as a possible treatment for COVID-19. But the HIV drug lopinavir-ritonavir was shown in two clinical trials to be ineffective, with drug levels probably too low to work against SARS-CoV-2. While a higher dose might be effective, it would also likely produce more side effects.

Scientists also proposed a repurposed antiviral drug, remdesevir, originally developed to treat Ebola. Remdesivir delays the ability of the virus to replicate its RNA.

Initial case reports appeared promising and saw the US Food and Drugs Administration approve the drug for emergency use. But the results of randomised controlled trials in hospitalised patients with severe COVID-19 were disappointing.

Although there was a reduction in duration of illness for patients who survived, it did not significantly reduce a person’s chance of dying.

Of course, neither of these agents were designed specifically to target SARS-CoV-2. But in 2020, Pfizer/BioNtech identified a small molecule – PF-00835231 – that blocks the SARS-CoV-2 3CLpro protease. It was originally designed against SARS-CoV-1, but the enzyme in the two viruses is almost identical.

PF-00835231, both alone and in conjunction with remdesevir, appears to reduce the replication of a range of coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, in cells in the lab. It also reduced viral replication in a number of animal models, with no adverse safety signals. But it is important to note this research has not yet been peer reviewed.

What now?
Pfizer/BioNtech are taking two drugs to clinical trials for COVID-19: PF-07304814, an intravenous injection for use in patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19; and PF-07321332, an oral agent that could potentially be used earlier in the disease. Both are formulations of a 3CLpro inhibitor.

These phase 1 trials, which began in March, represent the earliest stage of drug development. These trials select healthy volunteers and use different doses of the drugs to establish their safety. They also look at whether the drugs elicit sufficient responses in the body to indicate they could be effective against SARS-CoV-2.

The next step would be phase 2 or 3 trials to see if they improve outcomes in COVID-19. Usually this process takes years, but as the pandemic continues to rage globally, Pfizer says it will do this in a matter of months if phase 1 trials are successful.

The application of antiviral agents in acute COVID-19 has been difficult and unrewarding. Though results are at this stage preliminary, these agents by Pfizer/BioNtech are promising. They could be used early in disease, especially in people poorly protected by vaccination or in those who have not been vaccinated.

They could also be used as a means of prevention to contain outbreaks in exposed people. They should be effective against all the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, as well as against other known and possibly emergent coronaviruses.

The Pfizer CEO’s recent suggestion the pill could be available by the end of the year is probably a long shot. But the pandemic has shown us what is possible in the realm of swift scientific advances, and we will watch this space with interest.

Originally published in The Conversation. Read the original article.

Log in below to join the conversation.

The Conversation



COVID treatment Pfizer SARS-CoV-2


newsGP weekly poll Have you encountered patients who say they are ‘waiting for Novavax’?
 
11%
 
14%
 
16%
 
56%
Related






newsGP weekly poll Have you encountered patients who say they are ‘waiting for Novavax’?

Advertising

Advertising


Login to comment

Dr Phong Kee Aw   3/06/2021 3:57:07 PM

It already exists: Ivermectin!
See FLCCC (Front Line Covid19 Critical Care ) ICU specialists treating Covid 19, and also Dr Pierre Kory, Dr Tess Laurie, Dr Thoamas Borody ( Monash - Victoria), Dr John Campbell, Trial Site News, etc.
Information on successful trials have been ignored and suppressed by vested interests.


SD   8/06/2021 6:46:13 PM

Its great to invent new treatments but there are some existing treatments which also cannot be ignored.
Personally speaking, I know of people who had bad COVID and felt acute SOB, the most horrifying symptom. It actually was caused by PE’s due to COVID rather than B/L pneumonias which one would think of. B/L pneumonia’s can also occur secondary to massive PE’s.
They were anti coagulated early with LMW heparins and survived bad COVID.
PE’s are usually are not checked in COVID patients and the role of early coagulation should not be ignored to prevent deaths.
After clotting is a known effect of COVID now.


SD   8/06/2021 7:10:38 PM

Its great to invent new treatments but there are some existing treatments which also cannot be ignored.
Personally speaking, I know of people who had bad COVID and felt acute SOB, the most horrifying symptom. It actually was caused by PE’s due to COVID rather than B/L pneumonias which one would think of. B/L pneumonia’s can also occur secondary to massive PE’s.
They were anti coagulated early with LMW heparins and survived bad COVID.
PE’s are usually are not checked in COVID patients and the role of early coagulation should not be ignored to prevent deaths.
After clotting is a known effect of COVID now.