MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNW) – Kansas State University professors are one step closer in helping fight against COVID-19 with a protease inhibitor.

“Vaccine development is crucial, and also antiviral drug development is crucial too,” said Kansas State Professor, Kyeong-Ok “KC” Chang. “You have to have two arms to combat COVID-19. Vaccines are like preventative measures, and then antivirus is more like a therapeutic option, so you should have those two.”

Cocrystal Pharma, a clinical-stage biotechnology company, selected a series of protease inhibitors developed at K-State as a preclinical lead compound for further development.

The licensed protease inhibitors were developed by Kyeong-Ok “KC” Chang and Yunjeong Kim, virologists in the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine. Both professors teamed up with Professor William Groutas at Wichita State University and Stanley Perlman at the University of Iowa to help develop these inhibitors.

“This drug is inhibiting, leading to virus replication blockage,” said Kansas State Professor, Yunjeong Kim. “There’s no protease inhibitor on the market yet licensed for COVID-19 use.”

Kim said Cocrystal found there is significant potential for delivering this compound for either injection or inhalation. It can also potentially be used as a therapeutic and prophylactic to protect uninfected individuals who may become exposed to the virus.

“Choosing a preclinical candidate is a very significant milestone decision,” Chang said.

Once the company chooses a preclinical candidate, it will initiate studies to evaluate potential toxicity risks and conduct safety pharmacology studies before the phase 1 clinical trial.

“If it is successfully moving onto the licensing process by the FDA, I think it will be a good asset to fight against COVID-19,” said Kim.

According to the university, this protease inhibitor is one of many new technologies that it has licensed to corporate partners to help with COVID-19.

“Long before COVID-19 came along, we worked collaboratively on protease inhibitors for important human and animal viruses, such as MERS, human norovirus, and feline infectious peritonitis, a deadly feline coronavirus infection — some of which are also under commercial development,” Kim said. “So, we think that our research, along with other high-impact COVID-19-related research currently going on at Kansas State University by many different laboratories, shows our strengths as a research institution.”