Illinois Tech developing new COVID-19 treatment • Mercy deal could save hospital • Mental health urgent care center comes to Chicago

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ILLINOIS TECH DEVELOPING DRUG THAT COULD STOP COVID-19 INFECTIONS: Researchers at Illinois Institute of Technology have been granted a provisional patent for a drug that can possibly stop COVID-19 from infecting human cells, the Chicago university said in a statement Thursday.

“We have found a human enzyme that inactivates COVID-19, and we have found a way to deliver it to patients in a safe and effective way,” said Associate Professor of Biology Oscar Juarez, who is leading the project, in a statement.

The drug, called CROWNase, works by cutting the spike protein so that it can no longer infect cells. It essentially removes the virus’ protective coating, leaving it vulnerable to the infected person’s natural immune response. Researchers believe it has the potential to treat COVID-19 infections including new variants.

The treatment is meant for patients already infected with the virus and is designed to be used in an outpatient setting. Researchers are looking to develop an inhalant or nasal spray, in addition to other delivery methods including a tablet or an injection.

While still in the pre-clinical stage, Juarez said that the treatment could be effective on other coronavirus outbreaks, influenza and other respiratory viruses.

“We’ve already had three outbreaks of coronavirus — MERS, SARS-1 and the virus that causes COVID-19 — for which we were not prepared,” he said in an interview. “These outbreaks will continue to occur. Our application could take care of them.”

Full approval of the drug could take a couple of years, Juarez said. However, if viral variants were to prolong the COVID-19 pandemic, an emergency authorization for a treatment could be available in mid-2022, he said.

The National Institutes of Health will review the team’s data by the end of March. Juarez said he hopes that the review might result in funding for further research and clinical trials by September. The team, which also includes Illinois Tech Associate Professor of…