by Buck Institute

Focusing on metabolism and aging, the Buck joins the fight against COVID-19

When viruses enter our cells they highjack cellular metabolism in order to get the energy they need to replicate. The Buck, with a deep background in studying metabolism and aging, is bringing that expertise to the fight against COVID-19.

The Institute has joined an international collaboration that has identified 69 drugs that show promise against COVID-19. Buck President and CEO Eric Verdin, MD, is leading a group of researchers who are looking at the metabolic pathways that are impacted by some of those drugs.  Understanding the biology could have a big payoff.

“The hope is that the research will give us clues as to which of the drugs would be most effective against COVID-19 and why infection with this virus is associated with more complications in the elderly or patients with chronic conditions.”
- Eric Verdin, MD, President and CEO of the Buck Institute

“It will help us test the drugs in a more informed way. We will also learn more about human immunity,” says Verdin.

Both the Buck’s experience in studying aging and Verdin’s expertise in immunology are also coming into play in the research.  A number of the promising drugs identified by researchers impact the nutrient-sensing pathway mTOR1 (mammalian Target of Rapamycin) which is implicated in aging and is heavily studied at the Buck.  Two of the promising drugs include the diabetes drug metformin and the immune suppressant rapamycin, which have been shown to extend lifespan and healthspan in animal models of aging.  “These are complex drugs.  They do involve metabolism but they also have huge effects on the entire organism,” said Verdin.  “That’s why this large collaboration is so important. Scientists are looking at these drugs and pathways from several angles.”

The international collaboration, involving hundreds of researchers, is being led by Buck adjunct professor Nevan Krogan, PhD, the director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The researchers looked for drugs that interact with proteins that the coronavirus needs in order to replicate in human cells.  The drugs they identified include both experimental compounds and FDA-approved drugs that are being used to treat unrelated diseases like hypertension, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.  The anti-malaria drug chloroquine, which is now in clinical trials against the disease, was also on the list of promising drugs.

Labs at the Buck that study metabolism have joined the effort. The Institute will be working closely with the Krogan lab and with the lab run by Melanie Ott, MD, PhD, senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute and Professor at UCSF, to validate Buck findings. Both Ott and Krogan work in facilities that are cleared to study infectious diseases. Marius Walter, a senior postdoc in the Verdin lab, will be coordinating the work between the three organizations.   “The vast majority of current research is focused on SARS-Cov2, the virus that causes the disease called COVID-19,” said Verdin. “The Buck is trying to understand the biology at play in the virus’s host organism – humans. Our hope is that we can help identify drugs that shut the virus down, as well as those that boost our natural capacity to fight off viral attacks and develop immunity.“

Science is showing that while chronological aging is inevitable, biological aging is malleable. There's a part of it that you can fight, and we are getting closer and closer to winning that fight.

Eric Verdin, MD, Buck Institute President and CEO

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