Antiviral Therapy for SARS-CoV-2: Still a Priority
Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, noon – 1 pm
with Dr. Joanne Lemieux and Dr. Lorne Tyrrell

The development of antiviral therapy for COVID-19 remains a high priority. Even with a new vaccine, its efficiency will not be known and public acceptance will likely be in the range of 65-75%. Herd immunity may not be fully effective and COVID-19 will likely circulate - like some other coronaviruses. Effective therapy to treat serious COVID-19 patients will remain a high priority.
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is a single stranded RNA virus that is translated into a single polyprotein, which encodes for the replication machinery of the virus along with structural components. The Main Protease (Mpro) cleaves this polypeptide and thus inhibition of this enzyme is a strong antiviral strategy. We have shown that a drug used to inhibit the main protease of a feline form of coronavirus, GC376, is effective in inhibiting the main protease of SARS-CoV-2 and also inhibits viral replication in cell culture. Crystal structures of the protease with the drug reveal avenues for future drug development.
We are now pursuing clinical trials for GC376 with ANIVIVE, and have applied for FDA approval.


Dr. Joanne Lemieux (PhD, New York University) is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Alberta. As Director of the Membrane Protein Disease Research group she leads a multidisciplinary research program focused on protease structure and function. She is internationally recognized as a leader in membrane protein crystallography having solved two distinct membrane protein crystal structures (Science 2003; Proceedings National Academy of Science, 2007). She is a leader in the rhomboid protease field and has developed in vitro assays to determine catalytic parameters of these specialized enzymes (Journal of Molecular Biology 2011, EMBOJ 2014) and an emerging leader in viral protease studies (Nature Communications 2020), specifically focused on the development of antivirals. She was recently awarded two new CIHR grants as a Principal Investigator and 1 CIHR grant as a Co-Investigator on COVID-19.With their roles in human health and disease, these studies will have direct outcomes to human health.

Dr. Lorne Tyrrell is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Alberta and Founding Director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology. He has focused his research since 1986 on viral hepatitis and licensed the first oral antiviral agent to treat chronic hepatitis B infection – lamivudine – in 1998. Dr. Tyrrell was the former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry (1994-2004). In 2020, he was awarded two new CIHR grants as a Principal Investigator and 4 CIHR grants as a Co-Investigator on COVID-19. He currently is serving on the Vaccine Task Force for COVID-19 for the Canadian Federal Government (Health and Innovation, Science, and Economic Development).
For his studies on viral hepatitis, Dr. Tyrrell has received numerous prestigious awards including the Gold Medal of the Canadian Liver Foundation (2000), Officer of the Order of Canada (2002), Alberta Order of Excellence (2000) and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (2004). He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in April 2011 and was awarded the Killam Prize Health Sciences in May 2015.