3d render of coronavirus 2019-nCoV blood samples

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EDMONTON, Alberta — The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that first appeared in China has dominated headlines in 2020, and for good reason. The virus has taken thousands of lives already, and to the entire world’s dismay, appears to be showing no signs of slowing down. In a potential bit of good news for a change, researchers at the University of Alberta believe a drug originally developed to combat the 2014 West African Ebola virus epidemic may prove effective in fighting this new global health threat. Additionally, the researchers say they now understand why the drug is effective against the virus.

The drug, called remdesivir, is already routinely used to treat the MERS virus and SARS virus.

“Even if you know a drug works, it can be a red flag if you don’t know how it works,” says virologist Matthias Götte in a release. “It is reassuring if you know exactly how it works against the target.”

“We know the drug works against different coronaviruses, like MERS and SARS, and we know the novel coronavirus is very similar to SARS. So I would say I’m cautiously optimistic that the results our team found with remdesivir and MERS will be similar with COVID-19,” he explains.

Up until now, scientists haven’t been able to provide an explanation as to why remdesivir has been effective in treating other coronaviruses like MERS and SARS. This new study is the first to offer some answers.

Remdesivir had actually already been used on a patient diagnosed with the novel coronavirus earlier this year in the United States. That patient was given the drug on the seventh day of their diagnosis, and almost immediately showed improvement. Within a matter of days, their symptoms disappeared completely.

In fact, at a recent press conference in Beijing, Bruce Alyward, the assistant director-general of the WHO, told the media that remdesivir is the only known drug at this time that has shown any efficiency in fighting the virus.

So, how is remdesivir producing these results?

“What our study showed was that remdesivir essentially mimics one of the natural building blocks for RNA synthesis necessary for genome replication of the virus. Enzymes within the virus are synthesizing the viral RNA genome with these building blocks, but they mix up the bits they need with the drug. Once the drug is incorporated into the growing RNA chain, the virus can no longer replicate,” Götte explains.

While all of this is incredibly promising, and feels like the only positive news coming out lately about the coronavirus, researchers admit there is a still a long road ahead before remdesivir can be universally prescribed for coronavirus treatment.

Right now, remdesivir is going through a series of clinical trials expected to end by April.

“It’s likely we’ll need more than one drug to properly fight emerging diseases like COVID-19, as we have with HIV and hepatitis C virus infections,” Götte concludes. “Ideally, we will have a couple of drugs because certain strains could be resistant to certain treatments.”

The study is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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