CORONAVIRUS/International team develops potential COVID drug screening platform

04/30/2021 06:39 PM
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Members of the research team pose for a group photo during a press event held Friday. CNA photo April 30, 2021
Members of the research team pose for a group photo during a press event held Friday. CNA photo April 30, 2021

Taipei, April 30 (CNA) An international research team comprised of researchers from Taiwan and Malaysia has developed a platform where drugs with the potential to inhibit infection by the virus that causes COVID-19 can be identified from massive data banks of known medicines in about 20 minutes.

The platform for the rapid screening of SARS-CoV-2 inhibitors was developed as an efficient tool to sift through existing medicines and determine which are most likely to prove efficacious against COVID-19, the developers said at a press conference held by National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (NYCU) in Taipei on Friday.

Chang Chia-ching (張家靖), a professor in NYCU's Department of Biological Science and Technology, said the new coronavirus disease is caused by the virus' spike protein (S-protein) which binds to the human cell receptor ACE2.

"How to identify ACE2 inhibitors rapidly is now a top priority in treating the disease," Chang said.

The research team developed the platform to detect modulators that affect the interaction of SARS-CoV-2 and ACE2 using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS), a multifrequency AC electrochemical measurement technique.

In the study, an EIS-based biosensing platform using a recombinant ACE2-coated palladium nano-thin-film electrode as its core sensing element, was fabricated to screen for potential inhibitors against S-protein-ACE2 binding.

The platform was able to detect the interference of small analytes against S-protein-ACE2 binding at low analyte concentration and small volume (0.1 μg/mL and ~1 μL, estimating total analyte consumption < 4 pg) within 21 minutes.

As a result, the research team identified Ramipril and Perindopril, medicines that are used to treat cardiovascular diseases, as possibly able to inhibit the S-protein-ACE2 binding, while a similar drug Enalapril has the reverse effect, Chang said.

The platform could also be used to screen medicines for the treatment of urgent infectious diseases or cancers, he added.

At the press event, University of Malaya professor in medicine Kiew Lik-Voon said the medicines identified by the EIS-based biosensing platform are preliminary findings. More work has to be done to evaluate the drugs' clinical effect, he cautioned.

Shieh Dar-bin (謝達斌), a professor at the Institute of Oral Medicine under National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) who also took part in the study, praised the research as an example of successful cross-field collaboration, as the team was made up of specialists from different areas, from electronic engineering to cell biology.

NYCU president Lin Chi-hung (林奇宏) called the invention "inspiring," and said it is a result of Taiwan's regular cooperation with Malaysia.

At Friday's press event, University of Malaya vice president Noorsaadah Binti Abd Rahman expressed her thanks via video conferencing for the Taiwan team's participation in the significant study and said she hopes more potential medicines are identified.

The Taiwan team was made of researchers from NYCU, Chang Gung University, NCKU, Taipei Veterans General Hospital and National Changhua University of Education.

The study, titled "Development of flexible electrochemical impedance spectroscopy-based biosensing platform for rapid screening of SARS-CoV-2 inhibitors," was published in the Biosensors and Bioelectronics journal in April 2021.

(By Chen Chih-chung and Elizabeth Hsu)

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