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Groundbreaking Study Uses AI-Powered Image Cell Analysis to Identify New COVID-19 Drug Available at Local Pharmacies

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 24 Aug 2021
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Image: Groundbreaking Study Uses AI-Powered Image Cell Analysis to Identify New COVID-19 Drug Available at Local Pharmacies (Photo courtesy of Justine Ross, Michigan Medicine)
Image: Groundbreaking Study Uses AI-Powered Image Cell Analysis to Identify New COVID-19 Drug Available at Local Pharmacies (Photo courtesy of Justine Ross, Michigan Medicine)
A new groundbreaking study has revealed several drug contenders already in use for other purposes that have been shown to block or reduce SARS-CoV-2 infection in cells, including one dietary supplement that is already available at local pharmacies.

The study by researchers at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI, USA) used artificial intelligence (AI)-powered image analysis of human cell lines during infection with the novel coronavirus. The cells were treated with more than 1,400 individual FDA-approved drugs and compounds, either before or after viral infection, and screened, resulting in 17 potential hits. Ten of those hits were newly recognized, with seven identified in previous drug repurposing studies, including remdesivir, which is one of the few FDA-approved therapies for COVID-19 in hospitalized patients.

The team validated the 17 candidate compounds in several types of cells, including stem-cell derived human lung cells in an effort to mimic SARS-CoV2 infection of the respiratory tract. Nine showed anti-viral activity at reasonable doses, including lactoferrin, a protein found in human breast milk that is also available over the counter as a dietary supplement derived from cow’s milk. The team is soon launching clinical trials of the compound to examine its ability to reduce viral loads and inflammation in patients with SARS-CoV2 infection. Remarkably, the study also identified a class of compounds called MEK-inhibitors, typically prescribed to treat cancer, that appear to worsen SARS-CoV2 infection. The finding sheds light on how the virus spreads among cells. The next step will be to use electronic health records to see whether patients on these drugs have worse COVID-19 outcomes.

“Traditionally, the drug development process takes a decade—and we just don’t have a decade,” said Jonathan Sexton, Ph.D., assistant professor of Internal Medicine at the U-M Medical School and one of the senior authors on the paper. “The therapies we discovered are well positioned for phase 2 clinical trials because their safety has already been established.”

“Repurposing existing therapeutic interventions in the clinical setting has many advantages that result in significantly less time from discovery to clinical use, including documented safety profiles, reduced regulatory burden, and substantial cost savings,” said George A. Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of MICHR and founder/executive sponsor of the Center for Drug Repurposing.

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University of Michigan


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