Emory scientists testing possible coronavirus drug treatment

Emory scientists are testing an antiviral drug that may potentially be able to treat the new deadly coronavirus, officials say.

A woman, suspected patient of 2019-nCoV, watches medical staff filling up a form at a community health station before being transferred to a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. (Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

The new compound was discovered at the Drug Innovations Ventures at Emory, a nonprofit organization owned by Emory, and is being tested with scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The compound, designated EIDD-2801, is an "oral ribonucleoside analog" that can inhibit the grown of some viruses, including Ebola.

Officials say that recent testing of the active form of the compound showed that it could be effective against the coronaviruses SARS and MERS-CoV.

“Our studies in the Journal of Virology show potent activity of the EIDD-2801 parent compound against multiple coronaviruses including SARS and MERS,” says Mark Denison, MD, the Stahlman Professor of Pediatrics and director of pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.  “It also has a strong genetic barrier to development of viral resistance, and its oral bioavailability makes it a candidate for use during an outbreak.”  

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Officials believe that, from the results with past coronaviruses, a modified version of the compound The new coronavirus could be potentially valuable against the new coronavirus, designated novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

“We have been planning to enter human clinical tests of EIDD-2801 for the treatment of influenza, and recognized that it has potential activity against the current novel coronavirus,” says George Painter, Ph.D, director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development and CEO of DRIVE. “Based on the drug’s broad-spectrum activity against viruses including influenza, Ebola and SARS-CoV/MERS-CoV, we believe it will be an excellent candidate.” 

As of Monday, China has confirmed over 17,000 of coronavirus cases on the mainland. Most of the 361 deaths from the virus have been in central Hubei province, where illnesses from the new type of coronavirus were first detected in December.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.