Vanda Pharmaceuticals has formed a research partnership with UIC scientists, aimed at investigating small molecules with the potential to treat COVID-19. According to the company, the collaboration involves use of a high-throughput screening assay to pinpoint small molecules that could prevent cathepsin-L cleavage of COVID-19 glycoproteins required for viral processing in the host cell.
Mihael Polymeropoulos, Vanda president and CEO, said the collaboration with the academic institution will help bring new treatments to patients.
"Our collaboration further propels Vanda's recently launched COVID-19 therapeutics program that includes multiple molecular approaches in therapeutics development,” he said. Additionally, he said, Vanda will be exploring drugs that may block SARS-CoV-2 virus entry at the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 receptor, and the transmembrane protease serine 2 precursor.
The spokesperson added that the UIC team had previously developed a successful high-throughput screening for small molecules that specifically inhibited cathepsin-L mediated cleavage of SARS, Ebola, Hendra and Nipah derived proteins, and entry of pseudotyped virus into cells. The collaboration will enable the two entities to collectively build upon their research.
Polymeropoulos added that part of the therapeutics program involves establishment of ODYSSEY, a study of tradipitant in hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia. The study is scheduled to begin shortly at New York’s Lenox hospital.
The ODYSSEY study is being led by Bushra Mina, section chief of pulmonary medicine and director of pulmonary and critical care fellowship at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health. The study also is being overseen by Vanda.
The ODYSSEY study, according to a Vanda spokesperson, will randomize approximately 300 patients aged 18-90 with severe COVID-19 infection who are suffering from pneumonia.
“Enrollment is currently under way and we are optimistic that we will be able to quickly enroll patients and deliver results in the coming months,” they said.
The spokesperson told Outsourcing-Pharma that Vanda, in addition to this COVID-19 project, is also exploring different ways to fight COVID-19 through the development of new antivirals that could potentially block the virus from entering the host cell and doing so by searching in large chemical libraries.
Like other viruses, COVID-19 depends on cathepsin L for processing in target cells. The viral glycoproteins must be primed by protease cleavage, activating them for fusion with the host cell membrane.
According to Vanda, past research has demonstrated the potential of small molecules to inhibit the cathepsin L cleavage of viral peptides with minimal inhibition of physiological substrate cleavage. By joining forces with the UIC, Vanda hopes to broaden its research capabilities by gaining additional access to expertise and advanced facilities.
Bellur S. Prabhakar, principal Investigator at UIC, said, "Given the similarity between SARS-CoV and COVID-19, we expect to identify potential drug candidates to treat COVID-19 infection. This partnership with Vanda, in collaboration with the UIC's Center for Drug Discovery and Development, led by Dr. Gregory Thatcher, and High-Throughput Screening Core, led by Dr. Kiira Ratia, will bring together complementary expertise to potentially speed up drug discovery."