A professor from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is in a race to develop an antiviral drug that could treat COVID-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus.
In April, Dr. Donald Alcendor, an associate professor at the historically Black Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee, received a pivotal phone call from the college’s CEO and president, Dr. James Hildreth.
On that call, Dr. Hildreth urged Dr. Alcendor to start working on an antiviral drug that could help treat the early-stage of COVID-19.
Dr. Alcendor started to work on the drug right away and a couple of weeks later, he developed a viable drug candidate ready to enter the first stage of a trial.
He told Forbes, “We’re in trying times here. There are a number of vulnerable populations out there that have basically no way out of this. And, of course, there could be a second surge of this virus that is more detrimental than the first.”
Although he believes a vaccine is an ultimate answer to the ongoing pandemic, Dr. Alcendor is optimistic that the antiviral drug he developed could reduce the death rate.
“We wanted to do something different than other people,” he said, rather than repurposing the existing drugs.
Dr. Alcendor and his colleagues developed a compound that interferes with the coronavirus’ ability to copy its own DNA, according to Forbes. The drug can slow down the infection so the immune system can get rid of it more easily.
“The reagent sits almost like a security guard inside the cell, waiting for the virus to come in and take care of it,” Dr. Alcendor explained. “The cell would be in a state of surveillance.”
This is not the first experiment Dr. Alcendor has conducted on fighting a deadly virus. He also developed a Zika virus drug candidate in 2016, which is pending FDA approval.
The Zika virus drug candidate was found to reduce virus replication by nearly 95 percent and since COVID-19 has a similar genetic disposition to the Zika infection, Dr. Alcendor is confident that the same technique will be effective.
Dr. Alcendor did not comment on the prospect of commercial partners but he revealed his colleagues are under contract with a company that can produce the antiviral drug in large quantities, provided it gets FDA approval. The article originally appeared on Forbes.