Kansas State University licensed a technology that may lead to the production of an antiviral drug to treat coronaviruses and noroviruses.
Two virologists from the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as a medical chemist from Wichita State University, have worked on the virus for more than one decade, beginning research in 2009.
The three researchers used National Institute of Health grants to work on human norovirus therapeutics, as well as a $3.7 million grant to develop antiviral drugs to treat Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS human coronavirus. Their work extends to other human viruses that are similar to coronavirus, COVID-19.
This week, K-State entered into a license agreement with Cocrystal Pharma, a clinical stage biotechnology company out of Washington.
"Their research provides essential information that we will utilize to cure antiviral coronavirus infections," said Gary Wilcox, Ph.D., CEO of Cocrystal Pharma.
Wilcox said K-State is its sole partner in this research.
Dr. Yungeong Kim and Dr. Kyeong-Ok "KC" Chang, virologists at K-State College of Veterinary Medicine, and William Groutas, Ph.D., a medicinal chemist at Wichita State University have published on protease inhibitors for human (MERS and SARS) and animal coronaviruses and human noroviruses as well as others.
"We are at the early preclinical development stage," Kim said. "More recently, some of our protease inhibitors are shown effective in treating cats with deadly coronavirus infection and in the mice model of MERS-coronavirus infection. It is an encouraging finding, but they are not COVID-19."
Cocrystal Pharma sees the potential with this research and hopes to work to find a drug for coronavirus. But, Wilcox said, it’s too early to tell when this will happen.
"There are a great range of variables," he said.
According to K-State, there are no antiviral drugs available for human norovirus or coronaviruses, which include SARS, MERS and COVID-19.
"It will require further, extensive research and development to advance to the next step," Kim said.
Cocrystal has exclusive license to certain antiviral compounds developed by Kim, Chang and Groutas. The company intends to pursue research and development of these antiviral compounds. This research includes preclinical and clinical trials.
"This licensing agreement provides support to confront the emerging strain of coronavirus with urgency and caution," said Bonnie Rush, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at K-State. "The work of our K-State researchers is tremendously challenging and has never been more timely."
This research advances the Company's antiviral programs by providing potent compounds for further development. Cocrystal Pharma discovers and develops antiviral therapeutics that target the replication machinery of influenza viruses, hepatitis C viruses and noroviruses.
"We are incredibly pleased to contract with the Kansas State University Research Foundation as we seek to develop safe and effective antiviral therapies for these viruses. This license agreement opens several development opportunities for us to expand the broad utility of our platform to address significant viruses for which there are unmet medical needs, particularly the COVID-19 coronavirus and norovirus," said Sam Lee, president of Cocrystal. "There is an urgent demand to address the public health threat that the coronavirus continues to present, and we believe that our proprietary drug discovery platform has the capability to do just that."