When the pandemic started to strike, we reconverted our activity to search whether, among the already approved and available drugs, there are any that can block viral replication and can thus be rapidly re-purposed against COVID-19.– Mauro Giacca, Professor of Cardiovascular Sciences
To date, 3,800 drugs have been screened, with the top 45 having been tested directly on the virus in collaboration with Imperial College. This scale of testing allows Professor Giacca and his team to understand the behaviour of the virus in more depth, for example, the massive formation of abnormal cells observed in the lungs of infected patients. These can be attributed to the Spike (S) protein, which the virus uses to fuse its own membrane with that of its target cell. The process of fusion of different cells is then mimicked in the laboratory to assess the effectiveness of the drugs. The list of 45 drugs that emerged from the screening have been seen to block such cell fusion activity.
The final phase of this research work has been to further shortlist these drugs, revealing three that have maximum effectiveness in protection against viral infection. Discussions have already started with the governing bodies in the UK to repurpose the most successful of these drugs for the cure of COVID-19 patients.