Repurposing Antiviral Protease Inhibitors Using Extracellular Vesicles for Potential Therapy of COVID-19

Santosh Kumar, Kaining Zhi, Ahona Mukherji, Kelli Gerth
Viruses 2020 April 26, 12 (5)
In January 2020, Chinese health agencies reported an outbreak of a novel coronavirus-2 (CoV-2) which can lead to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The virus, which belongs to the coronavirus family (SARS-CoV-2), was named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Full-length genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 showed 79.6% sequence identity to SARS-CoV, with 96% identity to a bat coronavirus at the whole-genome level. COVID-19 has caused over 133,000 deaths and there are over 2 million total confirmed cases as of April 15th, 2020. Current treatment plans are still under investigation due to a lack of understanding of COVID-19. One potential mechanism to slow disease progression is the use of antiviral drugs to either block the entry of the virus or interfere with viral replication and maturation. Currently, antiviral drugs, including chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, and lopinavir/ritonavir, have shown effective inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro. Due to the high dose needed and narrow therapeutic window, many patients are experiencing severe side effects with the above drugs. Hence, repurposing these drugs with a proper formulation is needed to improve the safety and efficacy for COVID-19 treatment. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are a family of natural carriers in the human body. They play a critical role in cell-to-cell communications. EVs can be used as unique drug carriers to deliver protease inhibitors to treat COVID-19. EVs may provide targeted delivery of protease inhibitors, with fewer systemic side effects. More importantly, EVs are eligible for major aseptic processing and can be upscaled for mass production. Currently, the FDA is facilitating applications to treat COVID-19, which provides a very good chance to use EVs to contribute in this combat.

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