December 18, 2020
Through unprecedented local and global collaboration, UBC Faculty of Medicine researchers are applying their strengths in therapeutic development by combining skills across disciplines, establishing innovative partnerships and accelerating discoveries to combat COVID-19.
UBC researchers are now drawing closer to treatment breakthroughs that will improve care for patients affected by the novel coronavirus at various stages of disease progression.
Dr. Josef Penninger, UBC professor and Canada 150 Research Chair in Functional Genetics (pictured above), is lead investigator of an international clinical trial of ACE2 enzymes, the critical entry receptor for SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
“Basically, when any virus, including a coronavirus, enters our body, it must enter cells through a specific receptor—SARS-CoV-2 needs the entry gate ACE2,” says Dr. Penninger. “But when we intravenously introduce more ACE2 into the body, the ACE2 enzymes look like receptor cells and essentially act as decoys for the virus. Therefore, the virus cannot find the ‘real’ gate anymore. We have already shown that this approach works by significantly reducing this novel coronavirus’ infection rate.”
“Even when we have a vaccine, we’ll still need therapy and treatment for people who are already sick.” —Dr. Josef Penninger
The trial is set up to allow for rapid approval of the drug, depending on the outcome and clinical benefits. After the last patient is recruited, the research team can analyze the data and produce conclusions, hopefully early next year.
“Our team is working to provide drug therapy that could save lives of COVID-19 patients, and complement vaccine treatments.”
“Although developing new drugs takes time, government has stepped up with unprecedented opportunities for rapid research funding targeting COVID-19. Academic and industry partners, both nationally and internationally, are also working together in an unprecedented way, with a common goal.”