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Scientists find new drug that may be able to prevent or mitigate severe COVID-19 infection

Repurposing the 4-PBA anti-stress drug could modulate such cellular stress and curb mortality caused by respiratory failure derived from cellular stress, said researchers

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Scientists have found that a new drug has the potential to prevent or mitigate severe consequences of COVID-19, an advance that may lead to the development of novel therapeutics for the coronavirus infection.

The researchers, including those from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US, assessed how the acid drug 4-Phenylbutiric (4-PBA) modulates the inflammatory response produced in severe cases of COVID-19 in animal models.

According to the study, published in the journal Cytokine and Growth Factors Review, the inflammatory process identified in severe cases of COVID-19 causes an uncontrolled and excessive release of cytokines — molecules in charge of organising the body’s defence.

The scientists said this excessive release could even trigger blood vessels to become hyper permeable and also lead to multiorgan failure.

They added that controlling such a cytokine storm is essential to treating the severe forms of the disease.

“When cells are stressed by infection, they call the cytokines, and the more stressed they are, the more persistent they become, provoking this uncontrolled inflammation. Hence, one possible treatment for COVID-19 is to reduce cellular stress,” said study co-author Ivan Duran from the University of Malaga in Spain.

Duran said repurposing the 4-PBA anti-stress drug, approved for clinical use against other diseases could modulate such cellular stress, which is also present in pathologies like diabetes or ageing, which are classified as COVID-19 risk factors.

“Our preliminary results conducted on animal models have demonstrated that 4-PBA fully curbs mortality caused by respiratory failure derived from cellular stress,” he added.

According to the researchers, their preliminary studies have also identified the endoplasmic reticulum resident protein “BiP” (Binding Immunoglobulin Protein) – a stress blood marker — as an indicator of cellular stress situations.

They said this molecule could also be explored and measured in affected patients.

Duran said the BiP levels, apart from determining the efficacy of 4-PBA treatment, could also serve as early indicators of COVID-19 risk groups, establishing a correlation between high levels and the inflammatory severity after the viral infection.

The scientists noted that people already suffering from diseases that cause cellular stress, when infected with coronavirus, are more likely to fall ill or die.

“Therefore, if we know that the patient suffers from cellular stress, we can kill two birds with one stone — we can detect susceptibility before infection occurs and know how to treat it in due time,” the UMA scientist said.

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