How TIA is helping to accelerate the development of Australian COVID-19 treatments

TIA facilities are contributing to research programs at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) to develop a combination medicine that can target two proteins involved in COVID-19 infection and spread.

The research aims to halt the emergence of antiviral resistance, occurring when a virus changes and stops responding to medication – a threat with present COVID-19 treatments that target a single protein.

TIA supported Compounds Australia with $300,000 for storage of the Australian Drug Discovery Library (ADDL), managed by the Australian Lead Identification Consortium and used by WEHI researchers to screen and identify compounds as potential starting points for future COVID-19 therapeutics.

The researchers identified drug-like compounds that could block the two key coronavirus proteins, Mpro and PLpro.

The proteins are found in all coronaviruses and are essential for the virus to enter human cells, multiply and disable antiviral defences.

In a large drug discovery collaboration bringing together WEHI and Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, WEHI Professor Guillaume Lessene recently led a successful bid to secure close to $1 million from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) for further research and preclinical testing of the compounds.

L-R: Prof Peter Czabotar (WEHI), Prof Guillaume Lessene (WEHI), Prof David Komander (WEHI), Prof Susan Charman (MIPS), Dr Brad Sleebs (WEHI), A/Prof Melissa Call (WEHI). Source: WEHI

“Ultimately the goal is to develop a novel antiviral to address the issue of virus replication and antiviral resistance, and we know from past experience in the HIV field that combination antiviral therapy is the way to go,” Professor Lessene said.

WEHI researchers will work with Monash University’s Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation (CDCO), a TIA-supported preclinical testing facility, as part of a two-year collaborative project to evaluate the biopharmaceutical properties of lead compounds.

CDCO Director, Professor Susan Charman, said that preclinical testing will focus on efficacy, safety, and ensuring appropriate pharmaceutical development properties which could open doors to further funding for future clinical trials.

Professor Charman said the new MRFF funding would enable the collaborative team to drive the research to the next stage of development.

“Although we’ve seen extraordinary achievements with vaccines and drugs to fight the virus, the urgent need for a therapy with potential to fight resistance remains,” she said.