Compound made with B.C. sea sponge offers clues into COVID-19 treatment: UBC

Click to play video: 'UBC scientists claim major breakthrough in COVID-19 research'
UBC scientists claim major breakthrough in COVID-19 research
WATCH: UBC researchers say they've made a potentially huge breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19 and other viruses. Travis Prasad reports – Jan 9, 2023

A compound made, in part, from a B.C. sea sponge may offer clues into the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infection in humans, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia investigated more than 350 compounds made from natural sources around the world, such as plants, fungi and marine sponges, in an effort to find new antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19’s variants.

Of those, 26 prevented viral infection in human lung cells that were bathed in them, and three were effective in very small doses, said study co-author Dr. Jimena Pérez-Vargas.

“These compounds block a tool in the cell that the virus needs to replicate,” the UBC department of microbiology and immunology research associate explained.

“It’s a coincidence that the best three are from (Canada).”

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The first compound comes from a sea sponge in Howe Sound, the second comes from a marine bacteria collected in Barkeley Sound, and the third comes from a marine bacteria sourced from Newfoundland.

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They were effective against the Delta variant and several Omicron variants, the research found, and are “about as safe as for human cells as current COVID-19 treatments,” states a news release from UBC.

“You can fight nature with nature. I think it’s pretty cool,” Pérez-Vargas told Global News.

“The vaccine prevents the disease. This is (for) when the vaccine doesn’t work and people get sick — you need to use antiviral compounds to stop the infection. It’s curative more than preventative.”

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B.C. health officials closely watching XBB.1.5 COVID-19 subvariant

The next steps are to discover how to produce the compounds on a large-scale in a laboratory, added Pérez-Vargas, and in the next six months, test them on animal models. The research team also plans to test the compounds on other viruses to see what else they can be used for, she said.

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The study was funded by the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network (CoVaRR-Net), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Genome BC, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Mitacs.

It was published last month in the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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