Three compounds that effectively fight COVID-19 infection in human cells have been discovered by researchers based at the University of British Columbia.


One, Alotaketal C, was derived from a sea sponge collected in Howe Sound, British Columbia, while the others, Bafilomycin D and Holyrine A, were derived from marine bacteria found in Barkley Sound, British Columbia, and Newfoundland.

The discovery suggests that there could be a wealth of COVID-19 medicines waiting to be discovered from natural sources.

The team made the finding after investigating the COVID-fighting properties of more than 350 compounds derived from natural sources including plants, fungi, and sea sponges collected from around the world over the last 40 years.

They bathed human lung cells in solutions made from each of the compounds and then exposed them to a version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes cells to glow fluorescent green when infected.

They found that 26 of the compounds completely reduced viral infection in the cells and that three were able to do so in very small doses.

Further testing showed the three compounds were effective against the delta variant and several omicron variants. This is important in the continuing fight against COVID-19 as many of the current treatments are no longer effective against omicron variants as the virus is evolving.

“The advantage of these compounds is that they are targeting the cells, rather than the virus, blocking the virus from replicating and helping the cell to recover,” said co-first author Dr Jimena Pérez-Vargas, a research associate in the department of microbiology and immunology.

“Human cells evolve more slowly than viruses, so these compounds could work against future variants and other viruses such as influenza if they use the same mechanisms.”

The researchers now plan to further test the compounds using animal models.

“Our research is also paving the way for large-scale testing of natural product medicines that can block infection associated with other respiratory viruses of great concern in Canada and around the world, such as influenza A and RSV,” said senior author Dr François Jean, associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology.

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.