LUMC does research on new coronavirus inhibitors

18 March 2020• NEWSITEM

Researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), together with seven European partners, aim to develop new antiviral therapy options to fight coronaviruses. Their research proposal SCORE (for Swift Coronavirus Therapeutics Response) has been selected for funding by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme (2,6 million euros). The work has already started while the remaining formalities are being completed.

Prof. Eric Snijder of the Medical Microbiology department (Leiden University Center of Infectious Diseases; LU-CID) is coordinating the SCORE research project.

The outbreak of the newly emerged coronavirus (official name: SARS-CoV-2), which recently jumped from animals to humans, has now been declared a pandemic and the number of cases is increasing rapidly, also in the Netherlands. It is important to take measures to limit the worldwide spread of the virus and to be able to combat other emerging coronaviruses in the future. Snijder: “SCORE will develop antiviral drugs that can be used in the short to medium term to treat patients and curb the spread of coronaviruses.”

New treatment options for patients

In the SCORE consortium, the LUMC is collaborating with the universities of Aix-Marseille, Leuven, Utrecht, Bern and Lübeck, the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV. In the next six to nine months, SCORE wants to develop combination treatments for patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. To this end, the SCORE research team will be working with the best antiviral options that are currently available. They will assess whether these can be rapidly developed further towards a clinical application.

Research on mechanisms of virus inhibition

As part of the project, the researchers also want to study how specific drugs block virus replication and how the virus might be able to escape inhibition and develop resistance. This information is crucial in order to continue improving virus inhibitors. The research also produces a wide variety of ‘molecular tools’ and infection models, which can be used to speed up the development of antiviral drugs. The SCORE consortium will make these materials and models available to interested researchers at universities and companies worldwide.

Fighting future coronavirus outbreaks

The new treatment options and the development of better drugs could help limit the spread SARS-CoV-2 in the short term. In addition, the SCORE researchers want to deepen their knowledge of coronaviruses, in order to be better prepared for future outbreaks of similar coronaviruses. A key mid-term goal is to develop inhibitors that are active against broader groups of related coronaviruses, and possibly even against this entire family of viruses.

PREVENT nCoV-19

Next to the SCORE project, the LUMC Department of Medical Microbiology is also involved in the PREVENT nCoV-19 project, which was selected for funding under the same coronavirus call of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme. In this research project, a potential SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will be studied in laboratory and clinic, to assess its effectiveness and safety. Led by Dr Marjolein Kikkert, LUMC researchers will test candidate vaccines, made by the consortium, to see whether they trigger a virus-neutralising immune response.

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