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Texas A&M researchers discover new inhaled drug showing promise against many respiratory viruses

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 3:58 AM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered a new drug they say shows great promise fighting various kinds of respiratory viruses.

The drug is called PUL-042 and researchers say it’s taken using an inhaler. It stimulates the lungs’ innate immune system, which they say offers a first line of defense against many respiratory pathogens.

Magnus Hook is a distinguished professor at the Texas A&M Health Institute of Biosciences and Technology and helped discover the drug along with Dr. Burton Dickey, chair of the pulmonary department at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“The innate immunity has several branches,” Hook said. “One involves a set of specific receptors on cells called toll-like receptors, and we found our drug to be most effective in a combination of two molecules that stimulate two different toll-like receptors. It’s the first in its class. This is not your regular vaccine or antibiotic. It works on a totally new strategy.”

Researchers say it’s proving to be effective against COVID-19 and all other types of coronaviruses in clinical trials. In fact, Hook says PUL-042 has worked against all types of lung pathogens they’ve tested it against.

“This works primarily as you are getting viruses, in this case, down into the lungs,” Hook said. “You can be testing positive. That’s what the clinical trial that has been reported shows, that even after several days of testing positive, the drug seemed to work. It clearly would not work if you had been sick for a couple of weeks.”

They’ve tested the drug in almost 500 individuals. Researchers did not see any serious side effects in phase two trials, according to Hook.

“You don’t really expect to see significant clinical data in a phase two,” Hook said. “We were surprised that we did see it, so that suggests that this is perhaps a rather robust effect.”

Hook says it provides broad protection, but not as strong as one would get with a conventional vaccine. He says it gives protection over a span of three to five days.

”It gives us a totally new weapon in addition to vaccines and antiviral drugs or monoclonal antibodies. It often takes a long time to develop. This is a drug that can be on the shelf and use immediately.”

Hook says had PUL-042 been around back in December of 2019, it potentially could’ve stopped the pandemic from happening.

“In the best-case scenario, it would also have an effect on transmission from one individual to another,” Hook said. “That has to be tested. Obviously, a lot more work has to be done.”

Researchers say they need more funding and clinical trials before the drug will be readily available.

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