BALTIMORE (WJZ) – A University of Maryland, Baltimore County research team is studying whether antiviral drugs are effective in treating COVID-19.

Dr. Kathie Seley-Radtke says preliminary results in test tubes show the team’s antiviral drugs can shut down coronavirus 90-100 percent of the time.

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Testing on mice begins next week.

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“There are numerous viruses out there that we have never been able to develop a vaccine for,” Seley-Radtke said. “Many people can not take a vaccine, people who are immunocompromised, people who are very young or very old, people who are allergic to the ingredients.”

Seley-Radtke, a professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UMBC, says her grant request to study antiviral drugs was denied by the NIH in 2016 because the threat was not prominent enough.

“They said it didn’t really affect the United States, so they said they were less-than-enthusiastic about funding it,” she said.

She says her team recently received a fast-tracked grant for $150,000 to do the research for antiviral drugs, which public health experts say are critical.

“What we really need a drugs that when given early can prevent a symptomatic person from requiring hospitalization or very dramatically diminished the time that they’re symptomatic,” NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday. “They’ll be really good if we have bookends, drugs for advanced disease and drugs for early disease to prevent advanced disease.”

The IV drug Remdesivir is shown to reduce the risk of death for sick patients by 62 percent compared to standard care. It is similar to UMBC’s compound and currently in trials on an inhaled version.

“So much money is being put into this vaccine race, and maybe we’re not getting that same funding for small molecule antivirals that’s really needed,” Seley-Radtke said.

UMBC is collaborating with Cornell on the study. Seley-Radtke said they are also pursuing more funding and started a partnership with a local biotech company to develop these drugs.

The UMBC research team led by Seley-Radtke includes Ph.D. students Joy Thames, Charlie Waters, and Christianna Kutz.

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

Paul Gessler