A team of researchers has identified the most toxic proteins produced by SARS-COV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – and then used an FDA-approved cancer drug to counteract the adverse effects of the viral protein to destroy.
In their experiments in fruit flies and human cell lines, the team discovered the cell process that the virus takes over, highlighting new candidate drugs that could be tested for the treatment of patients with severe Covid-19 infection.
“Our work suggests that there is a way to prevent SARS-COV-2 from damaging the body’s bones and causing widespread damage,” said researcher Zhe “Zion” Han from University of Maryland.
The researcher notes that the most effective anti-COVID-19 drug, remdesivir, does not prevent the virus from making more copies of itself, but it does not protect cells that is already from damage caused by the viral proteins.
SARS-COV-2 affects cells and removes them from the production of proteins from each of the 27 genes.
For the study, published in the journal Cell & Bioscience, the team injected each of these 27 SARS-CoV-2 genes into human cells and studied the toxicity. They also created 12 fruit fly lines to express SARS-CoV-2 proteins that could cause toxicity based on their expected structure and function.
The researchers found that a viral protein, called Orf6, is the most toxic killer of about half of human cells.
For the remaining experiments, the researchers focused on just the most toxic viral protein, so they could determine what cell process the virus clears during infection.
The team found that the virus’s Orf6 toxic protein binds to a number of human proteins that have the function of moving substances out of the nucleus of the cell – the space in the cell that holds the genome, or the guide for life.
They then discovered that one of these human transport proteins, targeted by the virus, is blocked by the cancer drug selinexor. The researchers tested selinexor on human cells and fruit flies making the viral protein toxic to see if the drug could help damage them.
Selinexor, like many cancer drugs, is itself toxic. However, after describing its toxic effects, the drug improved human cell survival by about 12 percent.