Repurposing approved drugs for COVID-19 at an accelerated pace

From computers to Organ Chips to animal models
The Wyss cell biology team, including Ingber, Senior Staff Scientist Rachelle Prantil-Baun, Ph.D., Staff Scientist Girija Goyal, Ph.D., and postdoctoral fellows LongLong Si, Ph.D. and Haiqing Bai, Ph.D., recently uploaded a preprint to bioRxiv describing how they used cultured human lung cells in Lung Airway Chips to identify two approved compounds that inhibit infection with a CoV-2 pseudovirus at concentrations similar to those observed in human blood in clinical studies. But for any of these drugs to be quickly approved for use in patients, they need to be tested against the real CoV-2 virus. To make sure their candidate drugs could continue their journey toward the clinic, Ingber teamed up with Frieman and tenOever, whose labs have dedicated spaces with the capability to safely conduct tests with the novel CoV-2 virus, and together they have created a full drug-testing pipeline that demonstrated the compounds' safety and efficacy against the virus in animal models.

As part of the DARPA grant, Frieman and tenOever are also setting up Organ Chip testing programs in their own labs so that they can infect human Lung Chips with the CoV-2 virus and study human organ-level inflammatory responses. The most active anti-CoV-2 compounds or drug combinations are being tested in tenOever's CoV-2 animal models to validate efficacy, optimize dosing, and assess toxicity. Throughout the DARPA program, the team also will be engaging with other government partners and regulators to expedite the translation of drugs that are found to be effective inhibitors of CoV-2 infection for use in patients.

"Through our cell and lung-on-a-chip-based anti-viral testing system, we will be able to better predict candidate therapeutics for priority in animal models and eventually human trials," said Frieman.

"The Wyss Institute always been a very collaborative institution, but addressing the COVID-19 crisis has required that we reach beyond our walls and beyond the immediate Boston community to identify partners who can build on our technological advances and add their own unique capabilities, much like handing off a baton to a teammate in a relay race, to achieve our shared goal of identifying existing drugs that can prevent this horrible disease," said Ingber. "I'm confident that what we're doing both internally and externally is going to help all of us cross the finish line together over the coming months."


Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University 
Lindsay Brownell,, +1 617-432-8266 


The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University ( uses Nature's design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world. Wyss researchers are developing innovative new engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing that are translated into commercial products and therapies through collaborations with clinical investigators, corporate alliances, and formation of new startups. The Wyss Institute creates transformative technological breakthroughs by engaging in high risk research, and crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers, working as an alliance that includes Harvard's Schools of Medicine, Engineering, Arts & Sciences, Design, and Education, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Boston University, Tufts University, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, University of Zurich and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Wyss Institute is also a Center of Excellence of the Global Virus Network that is focused on eradicating global viral threats.

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