The VirPath team from the International Center for Infectiology Research (CIRI, Inserm Unit 1111 – CNRS Joint Research Unit 5308 – ENS Lyon – UCBL1), in collaboration with the laboratory of Dr. Guy Boivin (Canada Research Chair in Emerging Viruses, Infectious Diseases Research Center of the University Hospital of Quebec – Université Laval), has developed and validated an innovative strategy which involves the identification and direct exploitation of clinical samples from infected patients in order to select and use drugs marketed for the treatment of other viruses. A strategy known as “drug repurposing”. This program has been funded by Inserm, the French Directorate of Health Care Supply (DGOS), the French National Research Agency, the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region, Université Claude Bernard and Université Laval.
This novel and accelerated bedside-to-bench and bench-to-bedside approach is particularly well-suited to acute respiratory infections because it enables the identification and rapid validation of new generations of antivirals which are more effective and treat a broader spectrum of diseases. In addition, the regulatory and financial benefits of this drug repurposing strategy are evident when compared with the long and very costly traditional new-drug development process. The team’s Drug Discovery platform has already demonstrated its potential (three international patents protecting eight repurposed drugs) with the identification of diltiazem (Tildiem®) – usually used in heart pathologies – as an anti-infectious agent in flu viruses.
On the basis of these findings, a phase 2 clinical trial, called FLUNEXT, led by Manuel Rosa-Calatrava, Inserm researcher and Julien Poissy (Inserm Unit 995, Lille Inflammation Research International Center) of Lille University Hospital, began in January 2018. The objective of this national trial is to evaluate the effects of diltiazem in combination with an antiviral, oseltamivir (Tamiflu®), for the treatment of severe flu infections. It intends to enroll 300 patients in ten intensive care units, over two periods of flu epidemic, with final results expected in 2019.
The validation of this strategy and the results already obtained have led to the creation of a startup called Signia Therapeutics. The laboratory’s research program will now be extended to include other respiratory diseases, such as human respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus, responsible for severe respiratory infections in young children and the elderly.