An unexpected COVID-19 drug derived from a rare sea animal and historically used to treat cancer is found to be 27.5 times more effective than the Gilead Sciences’ popular coronavirus drug remdesivir, a study published in the journal Science on Monday revealed.
The treatment, known as Aplidin or Plitidepsin, is developed by the Spanish drug company PharmaMar. It has clinical approval in some countries, such as Australia, for treating multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer. The drug was identified as a potential COVID-19 treatment in March 2020 by a team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco. Since then, it has completed phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials and is expected to enter a phase 3 trial before seeking regulatory approval.
Aplidin comes from ascidian, also known as sea squirts, a kind of marine animal with some primitive vertebrate features and tubular openings that allow them to draw in and squirt out
The discovery of Aplidin’s effect in treating COVID-19 was not a result of random screening, like a lot of lab tests in the early days of the pandemic. Scientists at UC San Francisco found the drug by looking for existing treatments that would protect the specific human proteins targeted by the coronavirus.
“This was data-driven instead of just randomly screening drugs,” Nevan Krogan, a molecular biologist at UC San Francisco and a lead author of the study in Science, told Green Bay Press Gazette. “If you target a human protein that the virus needs, the virus will never mutate away from being reliant on that human protein.”