Researchers from Kansas State University are moving forward with coronavirus research and hoping to discover a treatment for COVID-19. The university made a second licensing agreement for their research with a clinical-stage biotechnology firm in Washington.


K-State researchers Kyeong-Ok "KC" Chang and Yunjeong Kim, both virologists in the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine, and William Groutas, a medicinal chemist at Wichita State University and Stanley Perlman at the University of Iowa, worked on antiviral research for almost a decade.


The new agreement with Cocrystal Pharma grants the use of two patented series of protease inhibitors that they hope to use to help discover a treatment for COVID-19. Cocrystal Pharma will use the K-State-patented protease inhibitors to further develop a possible treatment of the coronavirus infection that causes COVID-19.


While this is occurring, Kim and Chang are continuing their work.


“We are still working on protease inhibitors,” Kim said. “The company that licensed our technology (Cocrystal) will conduct preclinical studies to move forward. It will take some time to go from preclinical to clinical stage (trial).”


Through the new agreement, "Protease inhibitors bind and block the function of the virus protease," Kim said. "Those virus proteases are essential enzymes for virus replication. So if you bind and block them, then the virus cannot replicate anymore."


There are many steps that must be taken to push these compounds to the next level. Cocrystal will move forward with the preclinical research on the patented compounds.


“During preclinical stage, potency, safety, pharmacokinetics and many others are tested to select a compound that is suitable for human trial,” Kim said.


The ultimate goal is for one of the compounds to become a drug that can be licensed by the Food and Drug Administration as a possible treatment.


A previous licensing agreement with Cocrystal included broad-spectrum antiviral compounds with a focus on norovirus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, known as MERS. The newly licensed technologies include broad-spectrum antiviral compounds with a specific focus on coronavirus, including SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.


"Drs. Chang and Kim have been working on antivirals and inhibitors for SARS and MERS at K-State for a number of years, so discoveries related to corona and noroviruses are really not surprising," said Peter Dorhout, K-State vice president for research in a news release. "Some of the discoveries they’ve made about treating fatal feline coronavirus translate nicely into understanding the current SARS-CoV-2 virus, emphasizing the important, critical connection between basic virology research on animal and human diseases."