Coronavirus Puts Drug Repurposing On The Fast Track

Palm Beach, FL – March 17, 2020 – Chinese and western biotech companies have been gearing up to repurpose existing drugs, approved in the West for other viruses, as treatments for the coronavirus outbreak originating in Wuhan. Chinese authorities are testing two HIV protease inhibitors (ritonavir and ASC09) in clinical trials to treat COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus…  and others originally developed to treat Ebola virus and then dropped, will also be tested by private western companies in partnership with Chinesehealth authorities in randomized, controlled trials. “The general genomic layout and the general replication kinetics and the biology of the MERS, SARS and [SARS-CoV-2] viruses are very similar, so testing drugs which target relatively generic parts of these coronaviruses is a logical step,” says Vincent Munster, chief, Viral Ecology Unit, US National Institute of Health. Testing therapies approved for other indications also makes senses, as these drugs are already mass produced and available on a large scale.  Active biotech and pharma companies in the markets this week include Moleculin Biotech, Inc. (NASDAQ: MBRX), Moderna, Inc. (NASDAQ: MRNA), Aytu BioScience, Inc. (NASDAQ: AYTU), Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: INO), NanoViricides, Inc. (NYSE: NNVC).


“Broad-spectrum agents are ideally suited for outbreak situations where we don’t entirely know what we are dealing with in terms of pathogens,” says Bryan Mounce, assistant professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Loyola University Chicago. “Although we might not understand all the mechanisms underlying their antiviral activity, it is important that they have as few side effects as possible,” he adds.  Most of the drugs in clinical trials inhibit key components of the coronavirus infection lifecycle. These include viral entry into the host cell (blocked by umifenovir, chloroquine or interferon), viral replication (blocked by lopinavir/ritonavir, ASC09 or darunavir/cobicistat, which inhibit the 3C-like protease (3CLpro)) and viral RNA synthesis (inhibited by remdesivir, favipiravir, emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide or ribavirin). The genomic secquence of the SARS-CoV-2 suggests that there is a high level of sequence similarity between the SARS-CoV-2, SARS and MERS proteins involved in the replication cycle.


Moleculin Biotech, Inc. (NASDAQ:MBRX) BREAKING NEWSMoleculin Signs Agreement with UTMB to Test WP1122 on a Range of Viruses, including Coronavirus – Moleculin Biotech, a clinical stage pharmaceutical company with a broad portfolio of drug candidates targeting highly resistant tumors, announced that it has entered into an agreement with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) to conduct research on Moleculin’s patented portfolio of molecular inhibitors, including drug candidate, WP1122, for antiviral properties against a range of viruses, including Coronavirus.  UTMB’s Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases collaborates with the Galveston National Laboratory, which is funded by NIAID, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and other federal agencies, as well as academic partners, private foundations, and the biopharmaceutical industry.


“Published research has revealed that viral replication can be highly dependent on specific monosaccharides and has demonstrated the effectiveness of a compound known as ‘2-DG,’ a dual decoy of glucose and mannose, in the treatment of certain viruses ,” commented Walter Klemp, Moleculin’s Chairman and CEO. “And, this is rooted in an emerging field of research focused on the role of glycolysis and glycosylation, or more specifically, on glucose and mannose metabolism in viral activity, including the coronavirus .  Importantly, although 2-DG has shown promise in the laboratory in relevant in vivo models, its potential as a therapy is severely limited by its lack of drug-like properties, including circulation time and organ uptake.  Our drug candidate, WP1122, is a prodrug of 2-DG (2-deoxy-D-glucose) that, based on recently developed preclinical data appears to overcome 2-DG’s lack of drug-like properties and is able to significantly increase tissue/organ concentration.”


Dr. Donald Picker, Chief Science Officer for Moleculin added: “the in vivo research supporting the use of 2-DG as dual inhibitor of glycolysis and glycosylation to defeat viruses like Coronavirus through multiple effects critical to the progression of viral infection is promising.  And, with the improved drug-like properties of WP1122 and an apparent ability to increase concentration of the drug in the infected organs, we are excited to begin testing against coronavirus, as well as others.  Our hope for this kind of therapeutic approach is not only as a potential treatment for infected patients, but even as a possible preventative measure.”


Under the agreement, Moleculin will supply the lead drug candidate, WP1122, and related inhibitors, as well as technical support and UTMB will begin testing these candidates against various viral disease models, including COVID-19, in connection with the UTMB Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases.


The UTMB Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (CBEID) was established in 2003, the same year the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) selected UTMB as one of eight institutions to lead a Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (RCE) and to receive a grant to construct on the UTMB campus one of two National Biocontainment Laboratories, now known as the Galveston National Laboratory.    Read this full release with complete footnotes and more news for MBRX at     


Other recent developments in the biotech industry include:


Moderna, Inc. (NASDAQ: MRNA) recently announced that the first participant has been dosed in the Phase 1 study of the Company’s mRNA vaccine (mRNA-1273) against the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This Phase 1 study is being conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under its own Investigational New Drug (IND) application.


mRNA-1273 is an mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 encoding for a prefusion stabilized form of the Spike (S) protein, which was selected by Moderna in collaboration with investigators from the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of NIH. Manufacture of the first clinical batch was funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).


Aytu BioScience, Inc. (NASDAQ: AYTU) recently featured on a FOX segment titled: “Englewood company says it can get COVID-19 test results in 2-10 minutes,” reported on by affiliated television station in Denver, Colorado, KDVR; and on an NBC segment titled “2-minute COVID-19 test results? Denver-area company wants to deliver that promise,” reported on by affiliated television station in Denver, Colorado, KUSA.


The video segments and articles note: Aytu BioScience has partnered with a Hong Kong company to distribute test kits that can provide results in 2-10 minutes and Aytu BioScience has already ordered 100,000 kits for distribution.  Currently, most Americans are tested for COVID-19 using a nasal swab that produces results in 24 to 48 hours. The COVID-19 rapid test uses a drop of blood from a finger prick to test for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies and takes 2 to 10 minutes.


Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: INO) recently announced an accelerated timeline for developing its DNA vaccine INO-4800 to address COVID-19, the respiratory infection the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated a Public Health Emergency of International Concern of the highest level. According to WHO, approximately 89,000 cases have been reported globally with more than 3,000 deaths.


Dr. J. Joseph Kim, Inovio’s President & CEO, shared this accelerated timeline at the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force meeting at the White House on March 2. Dr. Kim said, “Inovio is the leader in coronavirus vaccine development and the only company with a Phase 2 vaccine for a related coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Using our modern DNA medicines platform, we designed our DNA vaccine INO-4800 in three hours after the publication of the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”


NanoViricides, Inc. (NYSE: NNVC)  recently has been in the news for being one of the few biotechnology companies that is actively working on developing a drug that can treat COVID-19, the coronaviral pneumonia disease which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, aka, 2019-nCoV, also known as the Wuhan coronavirus. After originating in Wuhan, within the Hubei province in China, COVID-19 has affected more than 90,000 people across the globe, in more than 60 countries, including 11 deaths in the United States and disease occurrence in both West Coast and East Coast states. The extremely stringent quarantine measures implemented by China, with similar measures adopted in other affected areas, has resulted in global financial markets losing hundreds of billions of dollars in value. Long term school closings are already occurring in Japan, South Korea, and now in the USA as well.


The COVID-19 virus belongs to the same family of viruses that cause the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) diseases. NanoViricides’ CEO Dr. Anil Diwan has prior experience working on research associated with MERS which is why the Company could initiate its drug development process rapidly.


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