Kent researchers help future-proof COVID-19 treatments

Katherine Moss

Researchers from Kent and the Goethe-University in Frankfurt am Main have identified new therapies for COVID-19 that could provide better protection against future variants and outbreaks.

An international team led by Professor Martin Michaelis, Professor Mark Wass (School of Biosciences), and Professor Jindrich Cinatl (Institute of Medical Virology, Goethe-University) tested the sensitivity of different SARS-CoV-2 Omicron and Delta viruses to combinations of the four currently approved antiviral drugs with betaferon – an additional class of antiviral drug that is also naturally produced in the body and protect it from virus infections.

While the recent COVID-19 waves have caused fewer hospitalisations and deaths than the initial ones – largely due to the immunity provided by vaccines – many people have defects in their immune systems and cannot effectively protect themselves from COVID-19 by vaccination and rely on effective antiviral therapies. The threat of resistance formation for antiviral drugs, which can happen quickly and cause problems with treatment, also adds to the need for new treatments for future-proofing our protection against Covid-19.

The team found new combination therapies that are highly effective in cell culture experiments and that may reduce the formation of novel variants.

Professor Martin Michaelis said: ‘These are exciting findings that will hopefully help to improve the treatment of vulnerable COVID-19 patients and to avoid the formation of resistant viruses as much as possible.’

Currently, there are three approved antiviral drugs for the treatment of COVID-19: remdesivir, molnupiravir, and nirmatrelvir (the active agent in paxlovid). Moreover, aprotinin is an approved drug, whose anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity was discovered by the same research team, and it was recently shown to be beneficial in COVID-19 patients.

The findings revealed that interferon combination with molnupiravir, nirmatrelvir, and aprotinin were much more effective than interferon combinations with remdesivir. This may explain, why remdesivir/ interferon combinations have so far shown limited improvement compared to remdesivir alone. Moreover, interferon combinations with the other three drugs should be tested in the clinics.

Professor Jindrich Cinatl (Goethe-University and Dr Petra Joh Research Institute) added: ‘If these findings are confirmed in patients, I hope that more effective therapies will help us to reduce the formation of novel dangerous COVID-19 variants.’

The study Synergism of interferon-beta with antiviral drugs against SARS-CoV-2 variants (Richard Stack, Mark N Wass, Martin Michaelis – University of Kent; Denisa Bojkova, Tamara Rothenburger, Joshua D Kandler, Sandra Ciesek, Jindrich Cinatl – Goethe-University Frankfurt) has been published in the Journal of Infection. See: