TCELS and Mahidol University discover that fingerroot can help prevent COVID-19

The Thailand Center of Excellence for Life Sciences (TCELS) under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, in partnership with the Faculty of Science, Mahidol University and the Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, have announced that the active compounds found in fingerroot or Chinese ginger is effective in the fight against Coronavirus or COVID-19. 

Assoc. Prof. Thanya Subhadrabandhu, Acting Vice President of Mahidol University and Dr. Nares Damrongchai, CEO of TCELS, held a joint press conference to announce the success of their collaborative research into active herbal compounds to prevent COVID-19. The media event was held on  June 1, 2020 at the Faculty of Science, Mahidol University and included a panel discussion on the topic “Effectiveness of fingerroot in inhibiting COVID-19". The panel featured Prof. Piyamitr Sritara, Dean of  the Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital, Assoc. Prof. Palangpon Kongsaeree, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Mahidol University and two academic staff with research expertise from the Faculty of Science, Mahidol University,  Assoc. Prof. Arunee Thitithanyanont and Dr. Suparerk Borwornpinyo as well as the chief of TCELS. Prof. Dr. Suradej Hongeng of the Faculty of Medicine of Ramathibodi Hospital served as moderator.

In his opening address, Assoc. Prof. Thanya said that while many countries are easing their lockdown restrictions, they are also speeding up the development of anti-coronavirus medicines and preventive vaccines. Mahidol University has been monitoring the outbreak since the beginning, forming a collaborative research team from the faculties of Medicine and Science to establish a Research Cluster which comprises 5 key research groups.

One of these groups was tasked with drug discovery and worked closely with the serology and plasma therapy research groups in setting up the infrastructure for an analytical platform to identify the active compounds in natural extracts and Thai herbs used in daily food preparation that are active against SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19).

The collaborative platform is comprised of a virology laboratory based on Bio Safety Standard Level 3 led by Assoc. Prof. Arunee Thitithanyanont for isolation of SARS-CoV2 and the Excellence Center for Drug Discovery (ECDD) led by Dr. Suparerk Borwornpinyo, which is equipped with storage for natural extracts as well as High-Throughput Screening (HTS) technology.

Assoc. Prof. Thanya pointed out that the university and TCELS share a goal of strengthening measures to prevent COVID-19 while also creating opportunities to discover medicinal compounds that would lead to drug development.

The ECDD screening of over 120 sample natural extracts found that the fingerroot and ginger extracts have the capability to inhibit growth of SARS-CoV-2 and prevent virus infections at low drug concentration. In addition, these extracts are not toxic to the cells. The result was proven by comparison tests with FDA-approved drugs including Niclosamide and Hydroxychloroquine.

The Research Cluster is planning to conduct an in-depth analysis of cellular functions and further study the effectiveness of fingerroot before going on to a clinical trial. In its early phase, the clinical trial would mainly be conducted at Ramathibodi Hospital. Assoc. Prof. Thanya said Mahidol University would expand the partnership in the second and third phases to support the clinical trial in a multicenter study. This would be crucial to strengthening Thailand’s position as a producer of modern Thai traditional medicine.

Dr. Nares added that the TCELS entered into partnership with the Faculty of Science, Mahidol University and Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital to establish the ECDD in 2014. It serves as a high-throughput platform to support the study and research of pathogenesis at the level of cellular and molecular networks as well as the discovery of medicinal substances through the use of high technology. In addition, the ECDD has created a collaborative network and an efficient storage facility to collect synthetic and natural compounds from all over the country based on ISO9001:2015. The center is preparing to apply for ISO17025 and OECD GLP respectively. Moreover, the TCELS and Mahidol University share the goal of creating opportunities for Thailand to identify other medicinal compounds for further drug development.

“During the COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand, the TCELS saw the opportunity to utilize an existing platform for research into active compounds from Thai herbs to inhibit SAR-CoV-2. The screening of active compounds will enhance the potential of the country to develop drugs as an alternative medicine and be prepared for a further outbreak in the future”.

Dr. Nares further said that the TCELS has a policy to support the discovery of medicinal compounds from natural extracts or biochemicals. The TCELS has also collaborated with the Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (JPMA) and Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries Promotion Office (BPIPO), Taiwan in initiating the International Network Agreement of Natural Products for Drug Discovery (NPD) under the Asia Partnership Conference of Pharmaceutical Association (APAC NPDD).

Under the agreement, human resources and researchers in ASEAN member countries are to be enhanced. The TCELS will support researchers to work with those from drug manufacturers in Japan to obtain knowledge and expertise in drug discovery and also encourage technology transfers. They would then return to work at ECDD under the collaborative research framework.

“Our shared goals and the collaboration between the TCELS and Mahidol University in establishing the main infrastructure for continued research into bioactive compounds from natural extracts have demonstrated that the establishment of key fundamentals to prepare for an emergency situation like the spread of COVID-19, have enabled the researchers to discover the medicinal compounds quickly and effectively", Dr. Nares said in conclusion.

Anyone wishing to take part in supporting the research for drug development to prevent COVID-19 is invited to donate through:

• Ramathibodi Foundation
• Siam Commercial Bank/current account/No.026-3-05216-3
• Call 02-201 1111

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