Researchers from Kansas State University are doing their part to help discover a treatment for COVID-19 through a second licensing agreement with Cocrystal Pharma.
The new agreement with Cocrystal grants the use of two patented series of protease inhibitors developed by Kyeong-Ok “KC” Chang and Yunjeong Kim, virologists in the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine. Collaborators include William Groutas, a medicinal chemist at Wichita State University, and Stanley Perlman at the University of Iowa.
Through the new agreement, Cocrystal Pharma, a clinical-stage biotechnology company, will use the K-State-patented protease inhibitors to further develop a possible treatment of the coronavirus infection that causes COVID-19.
“Protease inhibitors bind and block the function of the virus protease,” Kim said. “Those virus proteases are essential enzymes for virus replication. So if you bind and block them, then the virus cannot replicate anymore.”
According to Kim, there are many steps that must be taken to push these compounds to the next level. Cocrystal will move forward with the preclinical research on the patented compounds and may enhance or further optimize them. The company will then complete additional steps such as pharmacokinetics and eventually clinical trials. The ultimate goal is that one of the compounds will become a drug that can be licensed by the Food and Drug Administration as a possible treatment.
“We are very excited about the potential outcome but we are well aware that there are many obstacles ahead,” Chang said.
A previous licensing agreement with the company included broad-spectrum antiviral compounds with a focus on norovirus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, known as MERS. The newly licensed technologies include broad-spectrum antiviral compounds with a specific focus on coronavirus, including SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
“Drs. Chang and Kim have been working on antivirals and inhibitors for SARS and MERS at K-State for a number of years, so discoveries related to corona and noroviruses are really not surprising,” said Peter Dorhout, K-State vice president for research. “Some of the discoveries they’ve made about treating fatal feline coronavirus translate nicely into understanding the current SARS-CoV-2 virus, emphasizing the important, critical connection between basic virology research on animal and human diseases.”