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New Drug Fights Cancer and COVID-19

SARD-CoV2 COVID-19 virus
Revolutionary New Drug, HA15, Could Aid in Battle Against Cancer and COVID-19. Credit: National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences / Flickr / Public Domain

In order to combat infectious diseases, scientific advances have become faster, better, and more accessible. Now, scientists have discovered a drug called HA15 that may be useful in the fight against both cancer and SARS-CoV-2.

It was in search of the right drug that researchers discovered HA15. Others studies also identified proteins such as DDX3, a ribonucleic acid helicase, which helped with the spread of both maladies.

Reports in Science Daily—in August of this year—and in Frontiers in Microbiology both suggested that RK-33, a DDX3 inhibitor, could help beat malignant cells and coronavirus.

Nevertheless, according to News Medical Life Sciences, research has now gone a step further with the discovery of yet another protein called GRP78 and the “small molecule drug” HA15.

HA15 and how it works

The United States National Library of Medicine describes HA15 as follows:

HA15 is a sulfonamide resulting from the formal condensation of the sulfonic acid group of 5-(dimethylamino)naphthalene-1-sulfonic acid with the aniline nitrogen of 3-(2-acetamido-1,3-thiazol-4-yl)aniline…by triggering an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response, HA15 can reduce the viability of melanoma cells without being toxic to normal cells.

It has a role as an antineoplastic agent…[as] a sulfonamide, a member of 1,3-thiazoles, a member of acetamides, a tertiary amino compound, an aminonaphthalene and a biaryl.

The moment of epiphany was during research conducted at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The drug in question was HA15, which researchers had already successfully tested on lung cells infected with cancer. So why couldn’t a medication for one sickness conquer two ailments?

In effect, what HA15 does is bind the GRP79 protein, as explained in Drug Target Review. “GRP798 is hijacked to work in tandem with other cellular receptors to bring the SARS-CoV-2 virus inside the cells, where it can then reproduce or spread,” it was reported.

Moreover, Dr. Amy Lee, a professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine at Keck, announced that the team:

…found that this drug was very effective in reducing the number and size of SARS-CoV-2 plaques produced in the infected cells, in safe doses which had no harmful effect on normal cells. 

Cancer Cell
Cancer Cell. Credit: NIH Gallery / Flickr / Public Domain

Testing out the new drug that fights COVID-19 and cancer

Mice were the first test subject. The team genetically engineered them to exhibit SARS-CoV-2 receptors similar to those in human beings. Soon, they learned that although developed for cancer cells, it also bound GRP78 protein infected with coronavirus. This led them to repurpose it for both.

This is not unusual in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. Medical researchers and scientists have often repurposed drugs to target another disease. In January 2022, the Greek Sepsis 2 Study Team did exactly that when they found out that a Greek drug for rheumatoid arthritis could also be used against COVID-19.

Likewise, in August 2022, another team of researchers in Dallas, Texas was able to target a small molecule called ERX-41 that seemed able to kill certain hard-to-treat cancers.

The study led the Dallas team to detecting YUM70, a second GRP78 inhibitor. What YUM70 does in combination with HA15 is block KRAS. KRAS is another protein resistant to drug treatment.

According to News Medical Life Science, the Keck team said the drug “reduces the viability of cancer cells bearing mutations.” Furthermore, they asserted that the drug “may help combat them.” All that is left, it was said, is to determine if it is helpful, safe, and effective for humans.

There is, therefore, still much to do before anything can be definitively determined. Yet what HA15 and YUM70 have already done is create hope of minimizing, if not curing, both cancer and COVID-19 at once.

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