VCU study shows experimental cancer drug could be a promising COVID-19 treatment


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A study at the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center has discovered that an experimental cancer drug called AR-12 may be an effective coronavirus treatment.

The way it works is AR-12 inhibits the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, from infecting cells and replication. These findings were published in the the journal Biochemical Pharmacology,

“AR-12 works in a unique way,” said Dent, a professor in the VCU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “Unlike any other anti-viral drug, it inhibits cellular chaperones, which are proteins that are required to maintain the right 3D shape of viral proteins. The shape of the virus is critical to its ability to infect and replicate.”

The announcement said AR-12 has been studied extensively in Dent’s laboratory, and has been shown to be effective against a variety of viruses including Zika, mumps, measles, rubella, chikungunya, RSV, CMV, drug resistant HIV and influenza.

The university said steps are now being taken to develop a clinical trial testing the treatment at VCU Health. Andrew Poklepovic, M.D., medical oncologist, is leading efforts to begin a clinical trial.

“AR-12 is an oral therapy that has been well tolerated in a prior clinical trial, so we know that it is safe and tolerable,” Poklepovic said. “Most COVID-19 drugs are given intravenously, so this would be a unique therapeutic option and potentially suitable for outpatient therapy, similar to the way one would take an antibiotic.”

Poklepovic hopes to begin enrolling patients by early 2021, but the university says several milestones remain before they can begin.

The research team must develop the clinical trial protocol, receive approval from the FDA to test AR-12 on COVID-19 patients and manufacture enough of the drug for the trial.


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