In their research, the scientists identified 9 existing drugs, 14 phytochemicals from natural products and 3 N-acetyl glucosamine analogs with good binding affinities to 2 important COVID-19 proteins (glycoprotein S and protease) using Computer-Aided Drug Design (CADD) tools. “These 14 phytochemicals are scattered in 11 plants and majority are found in Nigeria. Some are common plants and herbs. “We used Lopinavir as a benchmark compound. All the 14 phytochemicals out-performed Lopinavir,” he said.
The principal investigator further explained that in using Lopinavir they were setting a reference point just as he said that it was chosen because of available scientific evidence on its activities against COVID-19 especially in combination with ritonavir. He however expressed optimism that there are prospects for their findings because the team also found existing (approved) drugs that could be used for pre-and post-exposure chemoprophylaxis and treatment of Covid-19. In order to bring the natural products to the clinic, there are two approaches that his team is considering. One of the approaches, he disclosed is to make teabags out of some of the plants. He added that encapsulation of the powdered plants part is also feasible.
According to him, the second approach is to isolate the phytochemicals and formulate them as capsule or tablet dosage form.
“We have two possible types of product; for prophylaxis (for pre- and post-exposure to COVID-19) and for treatment of COVID-19”, he said. Prof. Uzochukwu, who said that the next step to be taken by his team in the investigation process include in-vitro validation studies and phase 2 clinical trials for identified existing drugs. He further disclosed that they are looking at a period of 6 weeks for in-vitro studies and 8 weeks for clinical trials. “But this estimation of time is for drug repurposing, i.e. developing the identified existing drugs for COVID19 prophylaxis and treatment. For phytomedicines, the process will be a bit longer depending on the approach chosen (teabag or extraction route or both). However, fast track studies are possible if funds and collaborations are available,’ he said.
On the affordability of the products he explained that it would be dependent on the level of support and collaboration available for completion of their findings. Funding requirements, he said, could be as small as 50million Naira and as large as 3 billion US dollars, depending on the strategy adopted. He however expressed the hope that since the products are of natural sources they will be relatively affordable in comparison to synthesised new molecules. He admitted that issues bordering on patent and intellectual property rights are on the front burner. Prof. Uzochukwu, the Principal Investigator, COVID-19 Drug Design, Discovery & Development Project, School of Pharmacy, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka has been on Computer-Aided Drug Design (CADD) since 2005. He had done other works such as on ascaris (round worm) where in-silico results are paralled by the in-vitro and clinical trials. CADD is a great leap in rational drug design.
By Chigbu Nwaobia