A previous discovery by a research team at Semmelweis University in connection with the stimulation of the Sigma-1 receptor may now bring a breakthrough in the treatment of both pneumonia and tissue scarring, two of the main complications of COVID-19.
Important information for understanding this article is that receptors are proteins in the body to which other substances can bind. Depending on what substances bind to it, receptors can trigger different intracellular processes. These processes often play a role during illnesses, so receptors are the most common targets of medicine (since influencing the receptor can even affect the disease), Index explained in their interview.
The Sigma-1 receptor is a recently discovered molecule, and its significant role outside the central nervous system has only become known and researched in the last 4-5 years, Semmelweis University says.
Dr Andrea Fekete – adjunct at 1st Paediatrics Clinic, co-founder and CEO of SigmaDrugs, a pharmaceutics development start-up – together with her ‘Lendület’ (Momentum) research team, was the first in 2016 to publish that Sigma-1 plays a role in renal hypoxia. After, they discovered with Dr Ádám Vannay that the same receptor may play a role in tissue scarring or fibrosis not only in the kidneys but also in the lungs.
This marked a breakthrough in the development of medicine to help treat pulmonary fibrosis.
The discovery has been protected by patents registered in the U.S. since 2019, and later this year in China and many other countries, too. 95% of the patent is owned by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and the remaining 5% belongs to Semmelweis University, and its sole licensee is SigmaDrugs, a spin-off company of Semmelweis University, co-owned and managed by Dr Andrea Fekete.
The researcher emphasised that the effects on the lungs were previously demonstrated in a case where pneumonia and tissue scarring occurred – the exact complications COVID-19 can cause. Therefore, the researcher began to study whether these complications induced by the coronavirus can be treated by activating Sigma-1. The results are promising for current studies of COVID-19, which suggests that the activation of said molecule can be accomplished with a drug already available on the market that stimulates this receptor as a sort of “side effect”. Dr Andrea Fekete is currently preparing a protocol for human phase-testing, which SigmaDrugs may submit to the Hungarian National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYÉI) shortly so that after necessary testing, the drug can be used to treat the complications of COVID-19 as soon as possible.
The scientist also added that in the current epidemiological situation, both domestic and international cooperation is doubled in order to effectively cure the coronavirus as soon as possible.
In addition to governmental and academic tenders, the research group’s experiments are also funded by major biotech investors collaborating with the university on several projects, such as the companies of Attila Várkonyi (FastVentures) and Csaba Lantos (Futurmed).
Dr Andrea Fekete’s team also conducts nephrological and diabetological research. Recently, their attention has turned to the treatment of ophthalmic complications of diabetes, and the team is also working on developing a fluid for storing organ transplants, which can prolong the time of implantation for certain organs (including, for example, the cornea).
Source: Index.hu, Semmelweis.hu