Lerner Research Institute News

Read about the latest advances from Lerner Research Institute scientists, including new findings, grant awards, innovations and collaborations.

NIH Supplement Award for COVID-19 Drug Repurposing

Dr. Cheng and his team aim to identify repurposable drugs and combination regimens to treat COVID-19 in older adults


Feixiong Cheng, PhD, Genomic Medicine Institute, has been awarded a one-year, $400,000 award from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, to find effective treatments for 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in older adults. This award is an administrative supplement to Dr. Cheng’s five-year, $3.3 million grant for the development of computational tools to identify novel repurposable drugs for Alzheimer’s disease.

With COVID-19 continuing to spread around the world, rapid development of an effective treatment is essential, especially for high-risk groups. Older adults, who often have weakened immune systems and underlying health concerns, such as pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions, are at an increased risk for severe illness and death if infected.

Dr. Cheng’s team has developed several network medicine technologies and systems biology approaches for drug repurposing (the use of existing drugs for new therapeutic purpose) in multiple diseases, including COVID-19. In a recent study, they applied a network-based prediction model to identify repurposable drugs and drug combinations with the potential to treat COVID-19 by targeting the virus-host protein-protein interactions.

With this award, Dr. Cheng’s team will implement network medicine methodologies that quantify virus, host and drug-target interactions to establish COVID-19 treatment strategies for older adults. They will use a network-based knowledge graph approach to predict and validate repurposable drugs and then conduct analyses to pinpoint drug combinations that effectively reduce the incidence of underlying pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions in older adults with COVID-19.

“Drug repurposing offers an effective strategy for the rapid development of prevention and treatment strategies for COVID-19,” said Dr. Cheng. “Successfully completing this project will offer clinically relevant repurposable drugs and combination regimens for COVID-19 patients with aging-related pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions.”

Dr. Cheng is collaborating with Jae Jung, PhD, chair of Cancer Biology; Michaela Gack, PhD, scientific director of Cleveland Clinic’s Florida Research and Innovation Center; and other colleagues to conduct functional validation for his network medicine-based findings using various SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) models available at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Global and Emerging Pathogens Research.

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