How could COVID-19 drugs work and what's out there

Finding existing drugs that are effective against COVID-19 is our best bet toward treatments. Associate Professor Stuart Ralph and Dr Craig Morton, of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, explain.

The growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne is a stark reminder that the pandemic is far from over in Australia, and with cases continuing to rise alarmingly in places like the US, Brazil and India, efforts are intensifying into finding a drug that can help combat the potentially deadly disease.

While we aren’t yet on the cusp of a solution that decisively stops the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, drugs may prove to be an important tool in treating or preventing SARS-CoV-2.

Harriet Edmund caught up with Associate Professor Stuart Ralph and Dr Craig Morton, from the School's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, to find out how anti-viral drugs work and go through the different drug candidates that may help treat COVID-19.

Associate Professor Ralph is the Acting Head of the Department and his laboratory studies parasitic diseases, with a primary focus on the causative agent of severe malaria, Plasmodium falciparum. While Dr Morton is a Departmental Senior Research Fellow, based at the Bio21 Molecular Science & Biotechnology Institute. He spent 13 years in the biotechnology industry as a Principal Research Scientist developing anti-viral drugs, including a second-generation flu drug called Laninamivir, which reached the market in Japan as Inavir.

On the agenda was:

  • Why do we have so many effective drugs for treating bacterial diseases, but relatively few for combating viruses?
  • How do drugs stop viruses from recognising host cells?
  • Can drugs stop viruses from replicating?
  • What about drugs that stop viruses getting out of the cell?
  • What about drugs that treat our immune system?
  • Is there a magic bullet on the horizon?