Israeli team finds way to inject drug against COVID-19-related infections

“If the trial is successful, we will be able to start using the drug in some coronavirus patients or for other diseases,” the professor told the 'Post.'

Injecting syringe for vaccination (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Injecting syringe for vaccination (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Among the worldwide victims of COVID-19, a high number was ultimately infected by secondary bacterial infections. Some studies estimated nearly 50% succumbed this way.
New research by a Hebrew University of Jerusalem team has developed an injectable antibiotic that could have a deep impact not only in treating COVID-19 patients but also those affected by antibiotic-resistant infections.
Prof. Yechezkel Barenholz and Dr. Ahuva Cern with their team at the Laboratory of Membrane and Liposome Research at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem have been working on improving the performance of drugs in treating different illnesses, including cancer and infectious diseases, for many years. Their method is based on encapsulating the drugs in particles that can be injected into the body.
“We take well-known and established drugs and encapsulate them in two types of particles, called ‘liposomes’ because they are made of lipids, meaning fats,” Barenholz told The Jerusalem Post. “These particles imitate the human cell because they feature a membrane separating the outer world and the inner world of the unit.”
This way the large lipsomes can be injected locally to target the specific area of the body affected, increasing the efficacy of the cure, he said. If the drug was injected without encapsulating it first, it would just disappear before being able to display its effects.
“Small (nano)-liposomes when injected travel through the blood, and they know how to find the site of the disease,” Barenholz said.
The lab has developed several drugs employing this technique, including an anti-cancer drug called Doxil that was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration years ago and is currently used worldwide.
The new branch of the research focusing on bacterial infections managed to reformulate a highly effective topical antibiotic called Mupirocin into nano-liposomes referred to as Nano-Mupirocin to allow for its intravenous delivery. By doing so, it developed new properties to fight drug-resistant bacteria, including those responsible for secondary infections in coronavirus patients.
“We loaded the particles with this special antibiotic, which has a very different way to kill the bacteria than all others known today, and for this reason bacteria do not have the same resistance toward it,” Barenholz said.
Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is one of the biggest medical challenges of our time, he said. According to some estimates, if a solution is not found by 2050, it could kill 10 million people every year, up from 700,000 today, he added.
“Also, in the case of flu, most people do not die from the influenza virus but from the secondary bacterial infections they develop,” Barenholz said.
Tests on different animals have shown very promising results, and a clinical trial of the treatment will start soon, most likely at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem, to exclude problems of toxicity and to assess how the drug behaves in human blood. 
“If the trial is successful, we will be able to start using the drug in some coronavirus patients or for other diseases,” Barenholz told the Post.
“It is important to highlight that in the case of antibiotics, animal studies are relatively highly predictive of what happens in humans, different than what happens in other fields, such as cancer studies,” he said.
Researchers in Barenholz’s lab are working on other projects that target COVID-19. A group is trying to use the liposome technology to deal with all steps of the viral infection, to prevent the virus’s penetration, processing inside the cells, duplication and exits. Another study aims to reduce the severe impact of the virus on the lungs, which makes the body react against the virus in a way that at some point damages the body itself, creating a very difficult situation to cure.
“In this case, I think we are about six to nine months away from clinical trials,” Barenholz said.