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Sea sponge found in Howe Sound could help treat COVID-19, UBC researchers say

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have made a remarkable discovery that could potentially help save lives around the world.

Scientists have discovered three natural compounds that they say can prevent COVID-19 infection in human cells.

The study saw researchers investigate more than 350 natural compounds including plants, fungi and marine sponges in an effort to find a new antiviral drug that can be used to treat COVID-19.

The three most effective compounds were found in Canada – alotaketal C from a sea sponge in Howe Sound, bafilomycin D from marine bacteria in Barkley Sound, and holyrine A from marine bacteria collected off Newfoundland.

The discovery was found after soaking human lungs in the compound solution and then infecting them with COVID-19.

Testing showed all three compounds were effective against Delta and several Omicron variants.

“You need a very tiny amount to be effective against the infection so this is good news because you don’t need a lot of medicine in your cells to have an effect on the infection,” said Jimena Pérez-Vargas, a research associate in UBC’s Microbiology and Immunology department.

While vaccines are meant to prevent infections, researchers say this discovery can help stop symptoms.

"You give this antiviral to the people who are infected to stop the infection, so it's a different way of fighting the virus than the vaccines,” said Pérez-Vargas. 

The discovery is just in the early phases of research but she say the next step is to test their theory in animals before clinical testing can be done.

Raymond Anderson, a professor in UBC’s Chemistry department, said if the testing is successful, the treatment would likely be administered by pill or nasal spray.

The new findings could open doors in developing new medications.

“They don’t kill the virus directly, they actually act by modifying the host cells and preventing the infection in that way,” said Anderson. "They have the potential to be broad spectrum, and I guess the exciting thing, from my perspective, is that that means if it becomes a drug then you've got a drug sitting on the shelf in the next pandemic.” Top Stories

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