A recent scientific collaboration of the Molecular Virology Lab reveals that a physiological derivative of cholesterol blocks the COVID-19 virus, with important implications for COVID-19 therapy.
The molecule 27-hydroxycholestorol (27OHC) is present in our body as a physiological product of the oxidative metabolism of cholesterol. In cell cultures infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, 27OHC has been found to be a strong inhibitor of viral replication. The relevance of this scientific evidence is further reinforced by the simultaneous observation of a significant decrease of this antiviral molecule in COVID-19 severe patients.
This twofold discovery, published in open access in the scientific journal Redox Biology, is the result of multidisciplinary cooperation by Italian partners. Panoxyvir, an academic spin-off company of the University of Turin coordinated the study, while the ICGEB in Trieste tested the molecule on SARS-CoV‑2 isolated from infected individuals, and the Desio Hospital/University of Milan Bicocca monitored the levels of 27OHC in the blood of individuals who tested positive but asymptomatic for SARS-CoV-2, or who were suffering from moderate to severe COVID-19.
The 27OHC molecule is highly biocompatible, due to its physiological origin, and can inhibit a large variety of harmful viruses, like a broad-spectrum antibiotic against bacteria. It is, thereby, a candidate for rapid, pre-clinical development and clinical trials in humans, and a focus for antiviral strategies that are complementary to vaccines in dealing with current – and future – pandemics.
The ICGEB acknowledges, in particular, the generous contribution from the SNAM Foundation for the work that is performed in the Molecular Virology Laboratory in Trieste.