Scientists at RCSI find new drug to prevent Covid-19 lung damage

14 Jul 2021

Prof Steve Kerrigan. Image: RCSI

The new drug, cilengitide, can stop the virus that causes Covid-19 from binding to human cells and causing lung damage, clot formation and sepsis.

Scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have identified a new drug called cilengitide that can prevent severe damage to the lung caused by Covid-19.

Cilengitide has successfully prevented tissue damage by stopping the virus from sticking to the cells that line the lungs and blood vessels in preclinical trials.

The study, led by researchers at the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, has been published in open-access scientific journal PLOS One.

A mutation that is present in all variants of Covid-19 identified to date creates an additional binding site in the virus’ spike protein. This increases viral impact in the body, including breathing problems caused by damage to the lung tissue.

The significant damage to the lungs then allows the virus to spread into the bloodstream, where it can cause clots and vascular damage.

Prof Steve Kerrigan, who is a senior author of the study and deputy head of the RCSI School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said that more preclinical and clinical testing is needed before this drug can be used on patients, but the results are promising.

“It is imperative that we continue to develop treatments for Covid-19 for the many people who will not have access to vaccines and for patients with breakthrough infections. Our research in the lab has shown that cilengitide has the potential to significantly reduce the deaths associated with Covid-19,” he said.

Inthelia Therapeutics, a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company that has spun out from RCSI, has been recently formed to commercialise cilengitide and other findings from Kerrigan’s research group.

It aims to develop personalised therapeutic approaches to support recovery from or prevent death due to pathogen-induced endothelial dysfunction and infection, including sepsis and septic shock.

In May, the company was raising €22m to establish a team and fund the completion of a phase 2a clinical trial in sepsis patients.

The cilengitide research was funded in part by the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund, a grant that provides third-level researchers with the support required to transform commercially relevant research into investable high-potential start-ups.

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic