ShanghaiTech University, NCC Group, And More: Bio-IT Community Continues Fight Against COVID-19

April 17, 2020

April 17, 2020 The bio-IT community continues to aggressively research and innovate for SARS-CoV-2 solutions. The latest this week includes research on drug candidates, a SARS-CoV-2 gene map, free translation services for COVID-19 researchers, and much more.

Literature Updates

Researchers at ShanghaiTech University led an international effort testing more than 10,000 compounds, using high-throughput drug screening and the latest computer software, to identify six drug candidates that may help treat COVID-19. The project targeted the main protease that plays a pivotal role in mediating viral replication. The virus enzyme makes an attractive drug target for COVID-19 because it is not naturally occurring in people and thus suitable compounds are likely to have low toxicity. Of the six drugs that appear to be effective in inhibiting the enzyme, several are already in the drug discovery pipeline and one is of particular interest. The team received requests for more information from more than 300 scientists after the enzyme's structure was made public, even before their paper was published in Nature. DOI:10.1038/s41586-020-2223-y

Thanks to researchers at the Center for RNA Research at the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea and Korea National Institute of Health (part of Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), we now have a high-resolution gene map of SARS-CoV-2 to understand how the virus replicates and escapes the human defense system. The new coronavirus carries its mysterious genome in the form of a very long RNA molecule that produces many smaller “subgenomic RNAs" that are considered good treatment targets. Analyzing the sequence information of each RNA revealed the exact location of genes, transcriptome and epitranscriptome, which was previously uncertain. Other discoveries included numerous new subgenomic RNAs, due to RNA fusion and deletion events, and multiple unknown chemical modifications, possibility assisting the virus in avoiding attack from the host. One of 10 subgenomic RNAs thought to compose the viral particle structure was also invalidated. The study’s success was credited to the pairing of DNA nanoball sequencing and nanopore direct RNA sequencing, two highly complementary techniques for analyzing viral RNAs. Findings will publish in Cell. Pre-Proof

Based on recent findings of an influenza study, researchers in China have begun investigating how glucose metabolism may contribute to various COVID-19 outcomes. Both conditions can induce a cytokine storm—an excessive immune response that can lead to hospitalization or death by increasing glucose metabolism—and COVID-19 patients with diabetes have shown higher mortality. As was just published in Science Advances, mice with the flu treated with glucosamine (versus those that were not) produced significantly higher levels of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. An analysis of glucose levels in blood samples from patients diagnosed with influenza A and healthy patients additional revealed that the pathway that metabolizes a small portion of glucose plays an essential role in cytokine storms triggered by the flu virus. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz7086

Scientists at the University of Alberta have shown that the drug remdesivir is highly effective in stopping the replication mechanism of the novel coronavirus. Their research published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and follows an earlier report by the same lab in late February demonstrating how the drug worked against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus, a related coronavirus. Remdesivir was developed in 2014 to fight the Ebola epidemic and works by tricking SARS-CoV-2 by mimicking its building blocks. It can now be classified as a "direct-acting antiviral," reinforcing its promise in clinical trials with COVID-19 patients underway around the world. It is one of several drugs being fast-tracked into trials by the World Health Organization, comparing potential treatments in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in a dozen countries, with results expected to start rolling in as early as this month. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.013679

Industry News

Eagle Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company, announced that its product RYANODEX (dantrolene sodium) for injectable suspension inhibited the growth of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic, in a controlled in vitro laboratory test. On Tuesday, April 14, Eagle submitted its Investigational New Drug application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a Phase 2 clinical trial in partnership with Hackensack University Medical Center to evaluate the efficacy of RYANODEX in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. In the meantime, Eagle is working to increase production of RYANODEX in advance of clinical results and to potentially shorten the supply chain lead time if necessary. Press release.

Powering Precision Health (PPH), a Boston-based nonprofit founded by Kevin Hrusvosky, President and CEO of Quanterix, is convening the researchers and doctors from around the world to collaborate on solutions for the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. PPH has fueled advances on COVID-19 biomarkers through collaborations in France, Spain, Italy, UK, Germany, China, and the US, using proven cytokine assays to measure the innate host immune response in COVID-19 ICU patients, as well as offering important potential to measure patient’s therapeutic response to the many drug agents being investigated. The PPH ecosystem is addressing serology testing, which is being heralded as a key strategy for beginning to phase out stay-at-home mandates and safely allow people to return to work, ultimately a key enabler of global economic recovery. And PPH members have worked to get highly sensitive, lower cost assays to COVID-19 researchers. More information.

SDL is providing free access to SDL Machine Translation to all organizations, researchers and professionals engaged in any aspect of COVID-19 medical research, discovery and development. With access to SDL Machine Translation, all scientists and healthcare professionals will now be able to instantaneously translate the latest clinical research on the virus, enabling effective collaboration with colleagues and fellow researchers from around the world. SDL Machine Translation is an enterprise-grade, secure solution that can be used for even the most sensitive multilingual content, such as patent submissions. Capable of understanding the highly technical terminology used in life sciences and COVID-19 research, it instantly translates any document or text, works with audio and video files, protects confidential materials, and integrates into internal workflows. Researchers will have access to 120+ neural language pairs across a wide variety of languages, including some of the most challenging: Russian, Chinese and Korean. More information.

NCC Group, the global cyber security and risk mitigation firm, is offering unique threat intelligence free of charge to national Computer Emergency Response Teams, hospitals, and national institutes of public health around the world, for the next few months to help them build cyber resilience. Institutions signing up will benefit from receiving actual threat intelligence on hacking groups who have been infamous for their targeted ransomware attacks. The information, known as Indicators of Compromise, concerns the main criminal groups and the methods they use. On that basis, hospitals will be able to use this information to detect cyber criminals at an early stage and take actionable steps to improve their resilience. Our local teams are contacting institutions directly with this offer, however eligible institutions interested in accessing this threat intelligence can get in touch with us directly via our website:

The University of Louisville (UofL) is using the computing power of DataseamGrid, a network of desktop computers housed in classrooms of 48 Kentucky school districts to identify drugs to treat COVID-19. For the past 15 years, DataseamGrid has been used to conduct virtual screening to discover new cancer drugs. It is now providing 80% of the computational power to find the most promising drugs and compounds to fight SARS-CoV-2. Most immediately, UofL Health – James Graham Brown Cancer Center will be testing about 2,000 marketed drugs and another 9,000 investigational drugs and nutraceuticals to isolate those most likely to be effective against the virus. The more long-term portion of the research is focused on discovery of a new, more selective agent using computational models to screen 37 million small molecules and compounds against the target proteins in SARS-CoV-2. The screening process has identified about 30 drugs as potentially effective against the virus, which will now undergo biological testing by researchers in the UofL Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases. Press release.

iSpecimen is currently offering the following biospecimens to COVID-19 researchers: remnant nasopharyngeal swabs from individuals who have been tested for COVID-19 via a gene-based PCR test, including positive and negative specimens; prospective, custom research collections of blood, urine and/or other samples from patients with an active case of COVID-19 or who have recovered from the disease; remnant serum and plasma samples collected from patients with a known COVID-19 test result performed on a nasopharyngeal swab, either collected concurrently with the swab or at a selectable time period—days or even weeks – after the swab test. iSpecimen is currently wait-listing requests for remnant serum samples that have been tested serologically for COVID-19 antibodies, whether the outcome was positive or negative. More information.

Elsevier has launched the COVID-19 Healthcare Hub, a tool to support the medical community by providing free access to toolkits, expert insights, research resources and COVID-19 guidelines. Its mobile-friendly format allows clinicians to access the patient care information that they need from mobile devices while on the go or while at their desk computers. The COVID-19 Healthcare Hub is one of Elsevier’s many initiatives to help researchers and clinicians during this global crisis by providing up-to-date, evidence-based information. Press release.