In today’s uniquely challenging and unforgiving times, Wendy Maury, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and Immunology at the University of Iowa, is involved in investigating a drug called Bemcentinib.

Bemcentinib is a small molecule that serves as an inhibitor and targets a cell protein known as AXL. The trial, done in partnership with the University of Bergen (Norway) and the biotechnology company, BerGenBio, was launched in the United Kingdom. It might help patients recover from COVID-19.

The discovery in which Maury and her colleagues have found promise deals with a double role of Bemcentinib’s target protein, AXL. Often, AXL is responsible for triggering tumor growth or metastasis. However, Maury and her team have discovered AXL also is a protein used by several viruses — including coronavirus — to enter some cells.

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Maury’s work has indicated that Bemcentinib might be critical in inhibiting the coronavirus’s entry into those cells by preventing AXL from binding to and internalizing the coronavirus.

While health care providers have not yet used Bemcentinib on patients, the drug could be useful for early treatment of COVID-19 infection. Several other labs across the world are working on cancer chemotherapeutic trials with Bemcentinib to determine its impact.

“We (the University of Iowa) were one of several labs who had done earlier work with AXL and so it was logical to test whether the coronavirus utilized the same mechanism of virus entry into cellular milieu,” Maury said in a phone interview.

Much of Maury’s work involves collaborating with other labs. Working with James Lorens, professor of biomedicine at the University of Bergen and chief scientific officer of BerGenBio, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company based in Oxford, England, opened the door to her involvement in this study.

Although Maury and her team have been working tirelessly on the trial, much of the development is in its earlier phases.

Nevertheless, Maury and her team are committed to ensuring that they unearth the full potential of Bemcentinib in the fight against COVID-19.

Maury, a research scientist by calling, finds the opportunity “exciting.”

To her, this research is not an endurance sport where she must pick at the same problem every day but rather a “joy” that allows her to make new discoveries each day.

Ram is a Duke University freshman and Dubuque Senior High School graduate.