Scientists Say Eye Disease Drug May Also Help Fight COVID

Scientists Say Eye Disease Drug May Also Help Fight COVID

November 21, 2022

An interdisciplinary study team headed by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) discovered that the eye drug verteporfin prevents the SARS-CoV-2 virus from replicating, according to the National Eye Institute.

In earlier NIH-funded studies of the Zika virus, which can result in undersized brains in children, Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami and Gustavo Garcia Jr. were examining the Hippo signaling pathway, which regulates the size of organs in the body.

Noticing that this pathway also seemed to have virus-fighting effects, they started the current story by looking at SARS-CoV-2. The scientists performed experiments using tissue samples from people with COVID-19, as well as cultured human heart and lung cells selected to closely reflect how healthy cells respond to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

After infection, they found alterations in a large number of genes connected to the Hippo signaling pathway. They also looked at a protein known as YAP, or Yes-associated protein, whose activity is blocked when the Hippo pathway is activated.

The researchers discovered that in the early days after infection, both the original strain and the Delta variation of SARS-CoV-2 activated the Hippo pathway in the cultured human cells. The virus replicated more when they suppressed this route and raised YAP.

Additionally, before infecting the cells with SARS-CoV-2, the scientists pretreated the cells with verteporfin, which blocks YAP in the condition known as choroidal neovascularization of the eye. In the verteporfin-treated cells, concentrations of the coronavirus were below detectable levels, compared to more than 60,000 units of the virus per milliliter in an untreated control group.

The findings suggest verteporfin may be a candidate for the treatment of COVID-19, and the FDA's approval of the drug may make it simpler to initiate clinical trials to verify the drug's safety and efficacy against the coronavirus.