A small-molecule antiviral discovered by Emory University chemists could soon start human testing against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. That’s the plan of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, which licensed the compound, EIDD-2801, from an Emory nonprofit.
EIDD-2801 works similarly to Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir, an unapproved drug that was developed for the Ebola virus and is being studied in five Phase III trials against COVID-19. Both molecules are nucleoside analogs that metabolize into an active form that blocks RNA polymerase, an essential component of viral replication.
But remdesivir can only be given intravenously, meaning it would be difficult to deploy widely. In contrast, EIDD-2801 can be taken in pill form, says Mark Denison, a coronavirus expert and director of the infectious diseases division at Vanderbilt Medical School. Denison partnered with Emory and researchers at the University of North Carolina to test the compound against coronaviruses.
EIDD-2801 has other promising features. Many antivirals work by introducing errors into the viral genome, but, unlike other viruses, coronaviruses can fix some mistakes. In lab experiments, EIDD-2801 “was able to overcome the coronavirus proofreading function,” Denison says.
He also notes that while remdesivir and EIDD-2801 both block RNA polymerase, they appear to do it in different ways, meaning they could be complementary.
Unlike remdesivir, EIDD-2801 lacks human safety data. Ridgeback founder and CEO Wendy Holman says she expects the US Food and Drug Administration to give the green light for a Phase I study in COVID-19 infections within “weeks, not months.”