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Coronavirus: U of C scientists receive federal funding for antiviral drug research

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the spherical particles of the new coronavirus, colorized blue, from the first U.S. case of COVID-19.
This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the spherical particles of the new coronavirus, colorized blue, from the first U.S. case of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Hannah A. Bullock, Azaibi Tamin/CDC via AP

Two University of Calgary scientists are receiving federal funding to help further their work in developing effective drug treatment for COVID-19.

Dr. Kenneth Ng and Dr. Chang-Chun Ling, from the U of C’s department of chemistry, are being awarded a $416,000 operating grant to help further their work in exploring antiviral compounds to create new drug leads for the virus.

The funding is part of the Canadian 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rapid Research competition created by the federal government.

READ MORE: Alberta testing anti-malaria drug as early COVID-19 treatment; U of A studying Ebola drug

Ling and Ng’s work focuses on the antiviral drug, remdesivir — originally developed to combat the Ebola virus infection — which is currently being tested in both China and the United States as a COVID-19 treatment.

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Ling said the pair are working on manipulating the molecular details of viral replication to develop new treatments.

“We’re hoping that the modified compounds we’re aiming to synthesize will match specific features of the COVID-19 RNA polymerase — like a key in a lock — and give us that selectivity,” he said.

The polymerase has been likened to the engine of the virus.

Click to play video 'Federal government triples funding for COVID-19 research' Federal government triples funding for COVID-19 research
Federal government triples funding for COVID-19 research

Ng added that building on existing drugs is a faster alternative for researchers as these medications have already gone through the necessary validation and trials.

“Our goal is to make something that targets the coronavirus very specifically, with minimal negative side effects,” Ng said.

READ MORE: University of Alberta researchers develop online tool to map COVID-19 data

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The team expects to prepare and test the first series of compounds within four to six months. From there, a 3D structural analysis will be completed followed by a second round of compound synthesis and testing.

Within one year, the team hopes to give its results to collaborators and the pharmaceutical industry before moving on to advanced testing and clincial trials.