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The drug, called APN01, already existed as it had been developed for the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in 2003.
Researchers at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), together with international collaborators from Canada, Sweden and Germany, have identified a drug capable of blocking the effects of the novel coronavirus which leads to the COVID-19 disease, the institute said on Friday.
"We have been able to develop cell cultures that resemble the kidney, what we call micro-kidneys, in order to investigate the effect of a drug that is about to enter phase two in patients with the COVID disease," the leader of the research project, Professor Nuria Montserrat, told Xinhua.
The treatment, which has proven capable of reducing up to 5,000 times the amount of virus present in the tissue, uses micro-kidneys generated by human stem cells to show how the virus interacts with and infects the human cells.
"The use of this drug is able to inhibit the entry and replication of the virus in micro-kidneys that we can do in the laboratory by bioengineering," Professor Montserrat explained.
The promising results, published in the prestigious science journal "Cell," have led the biotechnology company that has developed the drug, APEIRON Biologics, to announce that it will begin an imminent clinical trial with 200 patients with advanced stages of COVID-19 in Europe.
The drug, called APN01, already existed as it had been developed for the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in 2003. SARS was caused by a coronavirus very similar to the one behind the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The drug has only been tested in the initial phases of the infection, because micro-organs can only be kept in culture for a maximum of 15 days. However, researchers are confident that the antiviral drug could also be effective in more advanced phases, which is what the trial that will begin in the coming weeks in Europe will try to prove.