Researchers led by Adrián Velázquez and Olga Abián targeted a vital enzyme in the replication of COVID-19. The essential protein for the virus, 3CLpro can be blocked and therefore slow or even stop the replication of COVID. After only three months of investigation, a natural compound has been identified as a candidate for drug development.
Quercetin is present in many plants and has proven to be a powerful inhibitor of the enzyme. The findings have been published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules. The next stage is to attempt to demonstrate the inhibitor action in vivo, (in cells and then in animals and humans), which would then open the path for the compound to become the basis of a drug treatment investigation.
Olga Abián, researcher at the Aragónese Institute of Health Sciences and the Aragon Institute of Health Research Foundation explains that this possible drug "would not prevent contagion but would act once the individual is infected. It would be used to treat the disease, administering it from the first moment of diagnosis to eliminate the virus."
"The pace of work has been quite intense in recent months" explains Velázquez, Araid (Agencia Aragonesa para la Investigación y el Desarrollo) researcher at the Institute for Biocomputation and Physics of Complex Systems (BIFI) of the University from Zaragoza. "It is not usual to get results so quickly, much less publish them in a magazine after a review process.".
This is one of a legion of research projects being led around the world and most experts expect any treatment programme to be a combination therapy attacking different elements of the virus in order to achieve rapid results and avoid developing resistance.
Quercetin is a falvonoid present in the roots and leaves of many plants such as capers, radishes, carob, onions, dill, coriander, blueberries, fennel, apples, grapes, broccoli, or tea. It is one of the most common flavonoid in the human diet but as Velázquez points out "eating these foods does not help fight the coronavirus, of course not," Quercetin in food "would not inhibit the viral enzyme nor would it be absorbed in sufficient quantity nor would the dose be sufficient."