Catalase, a commonly used low-cost enzyme, holds potential as a therapeutic drug to treat COVID-19 symptoms and suppress the reproduction of the novel coronavirus inside the body, according to a study.
Catalase is produced naturally and used by humans, animals, and plants. Inside cells, the enzyme kick starts the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide, which can be toxic, into water and oxygen.
The antioxidant enzyme is also commonly used worldwide in food production and as a dietary supplement.
“There is a lot of focus on vaccines and antiviral drugs, and rightly so,” said Yunfeng Lu from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US.
“In the meantime, our research suggests this enzyme could offer a very effective therapeutic solution for treatment of hyperinflammation that occurs due to SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as hyperinflammation generally, said Lu, a senior author of the study published in the journal Advanced Materials.
The team, including researchers from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, and Jinan University, China developed the drug-delivery technology used in the experiments.
Three types of tests were conducted, each addressing a different symptom of COVID-19.
The researchers demonstrated the enzyme’s anti-inflammatory effects and its ability to regulate the production of cytokines, a protein that is produced in white blood cells.
Cytokines are an important part of the human immune system, but they can also signal the immune system to attack the body’s own cells if too many are made – a so-called “cytokine storm” that is reported in some patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
The researchers also showed that catalase can protect alveolar cells, which line the human lungs, from damage due to oxidation.
The experiments showed that catalase can repress the replication of SARS-CoV-2 virus in rhesus macaques, a type of monkey, without noticeable toxicity.
“This work has far-reaching implications beyond the treatment of COVID-19. Cytokine storm is a lethal condition that can complicate other infections, such as influenza, as well as non-infectious conditions, like autoimmune disease,” said Gregory Fishbein a pathologist at UCLA.