Gaucher’s disease drugs also fight COVID-19, Israeli defense lab finds

The Defense Ministry-run Institute for Biological Research found two drugs used to treat a genetic disorder known as Gaucher’s disease were also effective against the coronavirus and potentially other viruses as well, the laboratory announced Tuesday.

As one of these drugs — Cerdelga — has already been approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration and the second — Venglustat — has almost completed the approval process, they may be fast-tracked for use with COVID-19 patients, the Defense Ministry said.

In the proposed antiviral treatment, the two drugs would be taken together.

“The two drugs under development are currently being tested for their effectiveness in treating animals infected with the coronavirus,” the ministry said.

The results of a trial testing two Gaucher’s disease drugs on the coronavirus, published by the Institute for Biological Research on May 26, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

The defense laboratory, which is based in Ness Ziona, has already published the results of a study of the treatment on mice, though the article has yet to be peer-reviewed.

The study on mice found that the medications inhibited the replication of the viruses in the bodies of the infected animals.

In addition to being effective against the coronavirus, the treatment was also found to work against three other viruses, Neuroinvasive Sindbis virus, West Nile virus and Influenza A virus, the researchers wrote.

“This indicates their potential in treating various viral diseases effectively — including future outbreaks of new viruses — once they are clinically approved,” the ministry wrote.

Gaucher’s disease is not caused by a virus, but is a genetic disorder common among Ashkenazi Jews. The researchers found that the drugs used to treat this disease cause the creation of molecules called glycosphingolipids that appear to serve an antiviral function, according to their article.

The Institute for Biological Research has been deeply involved in the development of coronavirus treatments and vaccine since the outbreak of the disease.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) visits the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Ness Ziona on May 7, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Last week, Channel 12 news reported that the laboratory had completed successful vaccine trials on rodents, paving the way to further testing on other animals and then eventually human trials. The laboratory hopes to have a finished vaccine in a year, or possibly earlier, the report said.

During the trials, two groups of rodents were infected with the coronavirus, but only one group had first been given the vaccine. Whereas the unvaccinated group became sick, the vaccinated rodents remained healthy.

Testing on rodents is a key preliminary stage in developing medicines and enables further testing to begin on other animals. If those are also successful, the trials will move to humans to check the vaccine’s effectiveness and for any side effects.

Earlier this month, the laboratory said it had isolated eight antibodies it believed could be used to develop treatments for COVID-19, and that it was ahead of the world in those efforts.

The antibodies were produced from blood taken from COVID-19 patients who developed serious symptoms, and then recovered. The lab hopes to combine the antibodies into an effective treatment for the virus. If researchers are able to make the medicine, they will seek an international drug company to mass produce it.

That development would not be useful in the creation of a vaccine, but would rather be a move toward a drug treatment for those who have already contracted the disease.

About 100 research groups around the world are pursuing vaccines for the coronavirus, with nearly a dozen in early stages of human trials or poised to start. But so far there is no way to predict which — if any — vaccine will work safely, or even to name a front-runner.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top expert, has cautioned that even if everything goes perfectly, developing a vaccine in 12 to 18 months would set a record for speed.

The coronavirus has infected millions of people around the world and killed hundreds of thousands, according to the Worldmeter website that experts say under-counts the true toll of the pandemic. Israel has had over 16,700 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, with 281 deaths as of Monday.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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Written by Aakash Malu


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