New peptide treatment could prevent COVID-19 symptoms

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center, USA, have developed a new peptide treatment that is showing success as a way to prevent COVID-19 symptoms in mice.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, mouse models with COVID-19 showed positive results when a small peptide was nasally introduced. The peptide treatment proved effective in reducing fever, protecting the lungs, improving heart function, and reversing cytokine storm – a condition in which an infection triggers the immune system to flood the bloodstream with inflammatory proteins.

Kalipada Pahan, PhD, the Floyd A. Davis Professor of Neurology at Rush and a Research Career Scientist at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, said: “This could be a new approach to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and protect COVID-19 patients from breathing problems and cardiac issues. Understanding the mechanism is proving important to developing effective therapies for COVID-19.”

Although there is a vaccine available, COVID-19 could potentially evolve into a seasonal and opportunistic event. For example, despite flu vaccination, about 40,000 to 50,000 people die each year in United States from the flu. Therefore, a specific medicine for reducing SARS-CoV-2-related inflammatory events and taking care of respiratory and cardiac issues of COVID-19 will be necessary for better management of COVID-19 even in the post-vaccine era.

Pahan added: “Since SARS-CoV-2 binds to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) for entering into the cells, we have designed a hexapeptide corresponding to the ACE2-interacting domain of SARS-CoV-2 (AIDS) to inhibit the binding of virus with ACE-2. AIDS peptide inhibits cytokines produced by only SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, not other inflammatory stimuli, indicating that AIDS peptide would not cause immunosuppression. We found that after intranasal treatment, AIDS peptide reduces fever, protects lungs, normalises heart function, and enhances locomotor activities in a mouse model of COVID-19.”

Common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. With a mortality rate of around 4-5%, it is 10 times more lethal than flu. While anyone is susceptible to COVID-19, those over 60 years of age and those with pre-existing conditions, such as hypertension, obesity, asthma, or diabetes, are more vulnerable to severe symptoms. Currently it appears that COVID-19 is more lethal in men than women. To date, about 2 million people have died throughout the world due to COVID-19.

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