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'This is very rewarding': Chemist hopes work with 10-year-old drug will help COVID-19 patients

Researchers hope a compound drug discovered nearly 10 years ago could be a game-changer for those infected with coronavirus.

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Researchers at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County hope a compound drug discovered nearly 10 years ago could be a game-changer for those infected with coronavirus.

Inside the science lab on the UMBC campus, several students are working on antiviral drugs that stop the growth of the coronavirus and reduce the threat of resistant strains. It's work that Dr. Katherine Seley-Radtke uncovered in 2014.

"We work all our whole lives to try to find, as a medicinal chemist, to try to find active compounds to help people, and so this is very rewarding to be able to do that," Seley-Radtke said.

Seley-Radtke applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2016 in order to further her research but was denied, she said, because it wasn't a funding priority.
But with the novel coronavirus now a pandemic, the professor's discovery is at the forefront.

She and a team of colleagues have received a $150,000 grant from Emergent Ventures out of George Mason University.

"This has allowed us to continue working and to get these into mice, and we've already seen activity against the new COVID, and they will actually be in animals next week," Seley-Radtke said.

With more grant funding, she hopes the anti-virals will go to the next step: clinical trial on humans.

"Fortunately, we have been approached by a company, a biotech company in the area, Helion Bio, and they are interested in licensing the pleximers," Seley-Radtke said.

That could mean mass production by the new year, according to the professor. While it's good news for those who test positive, she said through it all, there's an important lesson to be learned.

"I think we have to think more globally and not in the immediate, but also long-term. We have to be thinking ahead to that next outbreak," Seley-Radtke said.