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A researcher at the University of British Columbia in Canada has partnered with Austria-based biotechnology firm Apeiron Biologics to conduct a pilot clinical trial of a new drug candidate to treat disease caused by the new coronavirus, Covid-19, in China.

The APN01 drug candidate builds on a previous discovery that ACE2 protein is the key receptor for the SARS virus, as well as to protect the lung.

The discovery was made by UBC Life Sciences Institute director Dr Josef Penninger in alliance with researchers from the University of Toronto and Peking Medical Union College.

APN01 will be assessed for its ability to improve outcomes in Covid-19 patients with a serious infection in the new randomised, dual-arm trial in China.

During the study, 24 patients will receive treatment with the drug candidate for seven days.

Penninger said: “As a result of SARS revealing its secrets of how it damages the lung, it has also shown us how to develop new medicines to treat other diseases.

“Now, it turns out that the SARS-CoV-2 virus also uses ACE2 to infect cells. So ACE2 is the rational and targeted therapy for the new epidemic.

“First, APN01 keeps the virus from infecting cells, and second, it should prevent lung failure and multiple organ complications, the source of most of the mortality we are seeing with COVID-19.”

The primary aim of the trial is to assess whether APN01 could decrease the SARS-CoV-2 virus viral load, along with the number of days patients suffer from fever.

A requirement for further study in a larger population will be decided based on the trial results.