UPDATE: COVID-19 Trials Begin Thursday

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Clinical trials of a drug to block the COVID-19 virus will begin on April 9 at 10 centers in Europe, the University of British Columbia. A researcher at the head of the work declared on April 8.

“We will understand it. In the summer, we might have drugs that work. It’s a unique moment. We will live it, “said the director of the UBC Institute for Life Sciences, Dr. Josef Penninger.

But, he warned, a vaccine for the virus could be in a year to 18 months.

“The team’s results are promising for an early vaccine against COVID-19,” said Penninger.
The Penninger team said last week that they had found a test drug that blocks the cell door used by the virus to infect people with COVID-19.

“We are cheating on the virus and it can no longer infect us,” said Penninger in a teleconference hosted by UBC journalism professor May Lynn Young.

He said the work of a global team is providing new information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its interactions at the cellular level, as well as how the virus can infect blood vessels and the kidneys.

He said that its spread in the body can cause multi-organ failures.

“Scientists around the world and the UBC are working on new tests and treatments,” he said.

“It is not a good virus,” he said. “We have to fear it. “

He added, “We can understand it. Because we can understand it, we can do something about it. “

Penninger said the COVID-19 virus is a close relative of the first SARS virus. He said earlier research had helped his team quickly identify ACE2 as the gateway to SARS-CoV-2, which explains a lot about the disease.

“The front door is the same,” said Penninger.

Using artificial replicas of human blood vessels and kidneys – “organoids” from human stem cells – the researchers demonstrated that the virus can directly infect and reproduce in these tissues.

The results of the Penninger team were published in the scientific journal Cell on April 3.

The study involved researchers from Vancouver, Toronto, Spain and Sweden.

Clinical trials will start in Germany, Denmark and Austria. The trials will include 200 people with severe cases (but not late stages) and will last seven days.

“The idea is that we clinically prevent them from entering the late stages and hopefully prevent them from dying,” said Penninger.

“We need a vaccine but people should not give up hope,” he warned.

Penninger explained that the ACE2 protein on the surface cell membrane plays a key role in the epidemic.

In previous work, Penninger and colleagues at the University of Toronto and the Institute for Molecular Biology in Vienna identified ACE2 as the main receptor for SARS, the viral respiratory disease recognized as a global threat in 2003.

What the researchers discovered through cell cultures is that the drug inhibited the charge of coronavirus. What can be learned from this, they say, is key information about the development of the disease and that severe cases of COVID-19 can lead to multi-organ failure and cardiovascular damage.

“The front door is the same,” said Penninger.

He said it is unclear why the virus affects some and not others.

“This is the million dollar question,” he said. ” No one understand. Some people recover; some fall into serious lung disease. “

Additionally, warned Penninger, people should be ready to deal with the virus for a long time to come as the outbreaks break out.

“I hope I am wrong. “

Penninger’s research was funded in part by the Canadian federal government through emergency funding focused on accelerating the development, testing and implementation of measures to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak.

President Donald Trump has continued to claim that anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine can be used to treat the virus.

This is an assertion from the United States National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases that Dr. Anthony Fauci has previously dismissed as untested – much to Trump’s chagrin. It has since been revealed that the president has financial ties to the producer of the drug.

Penninger, however, supports Fauci.

“There is a lawsuit in China that shows it doesn’t work,” said Penninger.

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