Department of Chemistry


Oxford and KAU scientists working together to develop innovative treatment for COVID19

Scientists from the Department of Chemistry at Oxford and King Abdulaziz University (KAU) are joining the efforts on innovative drug discovery and translational research on COVID-19.  KAU is a prominent and leading research institute in the Arab region and will be collaborating with leading scientists  at Oxford on projects to address the immediate needs to treat acute and severe COVID-19.  Prof. Christopher Schofield, Professor of Organic Chemistry at Oxford and Dr. Hani Choudhry, Associate Professor of Genomics at KAU will lead this collaboration which will involve others in Oxford Physical, Biological and Medical Sciences, including Peter Robbins in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Genetics.  The collaboration aims to promote research on repurposing drugs / prodrugs / drug metabolites for targeting enzymes essential for SARS-CoV-2 such as the main protease. The efforts will build on Oxford’s expertise in enzymology, including proteases and related enzymes, which are validated antibacterial targets by penicillins and other beta-lactam ring containing drugs. KAU bring expertise in cell biology and clinical science. In addition to drug discovery work, it is hoped to help support clinical trials of repurposed drugs for treatment of COVID-19, such as with Almitrine bismeylate, which is a respiratory stimulant that improves respiration by acting as an agonist of peripheral chemoreceptors located on the carotid bodies and which is a lung vasoconstrictor.

Normally, blood picks up oxygen as it comes back through the lungs by passing close to the gas in the lungs. A problem with COVID-19 patients is that much of that blood is passing through blood vessels in the lungs without ever coming close to the gas. This “shunt flow gives an arterial oxygen level that is very low, however, the work of breathing frequently looks not to be increased. It is unclear whether one should be intubating and ventilating patients for pure hypoxaemia when they are not apparently tiring. One the main supportive therapy for severe COVID-19 patients is to maintain sufficient levels of oxygen through supplementary oxygen or by using ventilators to artificially support the body’s breathing process. The clinical trial will test if Almitrine bismeylate can enhance oxygen levels in the blood in COVID-19 patients in order to improve their clinical outcome. High oxygen levels are clinical vital for COVID-19, because patients with the disease die when due to low oxygen levels in their arterial blood.

The KAU-Oxford collaboration will involve joint research to investigate new drug targets for COVID-19, joint research on clinical trials, technology transfer, faculty & student  knowledge exchange and training on cutting edge clinical, chemical biology and biophysics technologies.  

H.E Prof. Abdulrahman AI-Youbi, the President of KAU said “We are passionate about KAU-Oxford collaboration. COVID-19 being a pandemic causing a global health and economy crisis thereby needs an international effort and an innovative approach to exceptionally develop novel therapies”

Prof. Christopher Schofield, Professor of Organic Chemistry, who is leading the collaboration in Oxford said ”COVID-19 is an unprecedented and rapidly evolving global challenge, which must be addressed by international collaboration. We are absolutely delighted to work with KAU on addressing this crisis. I’m convinced we can work together to help combat COVID-19 and other infectious disease challenges.”