VANCOUVER -- Working with a team from around the world, a UBC researcher has come up with a possible new treatment for COVD-19 that’s based on what he learned during the SARS outbreak of 2003.

"It turns out the same principal about how the virus infects and how it leads to lung injury holds true for the new corona virus epidemic," said Dr. Josef Penninger, the director of the Life Sciences Institute at UBC. "It basically uses the same lock to get into the cells."

Penninger says the new drug has two functions: it should block the virus from getting into the cells and protect the lung from severe lung disease. The first shipment of the medication has just arrived in China, where it will undergo a small clinical trial with infected patients.

"This is not a vaccine. This is therapy for people who are sick," said Penninger "Success is, of course, that they get better, clearly. So there's less virus, the clinical symptoms get better, the biomarkers of the disease get better. This is what we will actually test now."

In the first trial, 12 patients will be given the new drug and 12 will be given a placebo. "It will be a really controlled trial. It has to be if we are going to figure out if it works or not," said Penninger.

If it’s successful, a larger clinic trial will be needed before it can be widely manufactured and distributed. “At the moment we have drug for 130 people, that’s what we have. So we have to make much much more,” said Penninger.

He wasn’t able to test this therapy during the SARS outbreak because the virus went away naturally. "Now maybe the SARS virus really guides us to deliver rational therapy for the next virus which uses the same principal," said Penninger. "So let’s hope."