U of R Alum Dr. Nevan Krogan one of those leading the race to develop COVID-19 treatments

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: June 29, 2020 10:00 a.m.

Never-before-seen image of the interactions of COVID-19 with human proteins.
Never-before-seen image of the interactions of COVID-19 with human proteins. Credit: Dr. Elizabeth Fischer, NIAID/NIH. Bouhaddou et al. © Elsevier 2020.

When COVID-19 hit the world toward the end of last year, most people, governments, businesses, and institutions could not have imagined the almost unbearable strain the virus would put on the world's health, economic, and social systems.

More than six months into the pandemic, we've seen schools, businesses and offices shuttered around the globe. With nearly 9.5 million infected persons, almost half a million lives lost, and the numbers continuing to rise in ways reminiscent of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, researchers are searching for clues to find the way forward.

Although some communities have started the slow process of reopening, the situation remains precarious until a reliable vaccine is discovered.

And so, scientists in laboratories around the world are hard at work on vaccines as well as therapeutics, the only hope in our collective fight against the virus.

Saskatchewan-born scientist and University of Regina alumnus, Dr. Nevan Krogan (BSc'97, MSc'99) and his team are at the forefront of the research work being done to develop treatments and save lives.

"When the coronavirus pandemic started, I led the work to create the SARS-CoV-2 interactome. I assembled the QBI Coronavirus Research Group (QCRG), which includes hundreds of scientists from around the world, and we began to study the interactions of the coronavirus on the human body at a cellular level," says Dr. Krogan, now a molecular biologist and professor at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

As the director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) under the UCSF School of Pharmacy, and a senior investigator at Gladstone Institutes, Dr. Krogan's research focuses on developing and using unbiased, quantitative systems approaches to study a wide variety of diseases with the ultimate goal of developing new therapeutics.

On March 22, the team released their paper, featuring a map of the interactions of the virus and human proteins, and the identification of 69 drugs or compounds that could be used potentially to fight the virus.

The QCRG was also the first body to clone each of the viral genes, which they are now shipping to labs globally to assist other scientists in the race to find a treatment for COVID-19. Since their paper was published, the QCRG has had more than 350 requests from labs all over the world for the cloned genes, which the labs then test and share their findings with the QCRG.

And yesterday, June 28, the Group's groundbreaking research titled "The Global Phosphorylation Landscape of SARS-CoV-2 Infection" was published in the leading scientific journal, Cell.

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Never-before-seen images of the interactions of COVID-19 with human proteins.
Photos: Dr. Elizabeth Fischer, NIAID/NIH. Bouhaddou et al. © Elsevier 2020.

In this latest research, Dr. Krogan and his team identified 87 drugs and compounds by mapping global phosphorylation profiles. The team found pharmacologic inhibition of p38, CK2, CDKs, AXL, and PIKFYVE kinases to possess antiviral efficacy in laboratory experiments, representing potential COVID-19 therapies. They produced never-before-seen images of the virus' interactions with human cells.

"What this means in the fight against COVID-19 is that we are one step closer to understanding what is required to combat the virus," says Krogan. "By sharing our discoveries with other scientists around the world - by working together - we will win and a vaccine will be developed and we will find therapeutics that work. Together, we are going to solve this puzzle."

"Dr. Nevan Krogan is another fine example of the pioneering work in which U of R alumni are engaged here in Saskatchewan and around the world. This is truly cutting-edge research that is providing hope to other scientists, to those on the front lines, and to citizens around the world," said Lisa Mitchell, Associate Vice-President (University Advancement & Communications).

As this is a new paradigm in drug discovery, Dr. Krogan and his team will continue to work to enhance human understanding of the basic biology disease, making it possible for scientist to explore the chemistry for possible therapeutic interventions. By partnering with many researchers around the globe, the scale at which the team is making new discoveries is truly unprecedented.

To read more about Dr. Krogan and his work, please visit: https://kroganlab.ucsf.edu/krogan-lab. For more information about the University of Regina alumni community, please visit: https://alumni.uregina.ca/.


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