Ashwagandha may hold cure for novel coronavirus: study

New Delhi: A collaborative research study initiated by the Delhi-based Indian Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan, has discovered that Ashwagandha, referred as the king of Ayurvedic herbs, may hold an efficient anti-Covid-19 drug.

The natural compounds from Ashwagandha and Propolis have the potential to be effective anti-Covid-19 drug candidates, according to the research paper, just accepted for publication in the Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics.

The researchers targeted the main enzyme of SARS-CoV-2 (novel coronavirus) for splitting proteins, known as the ‘Main protease’ (Mpro) that plays a key role in mediating viral replication.

“This is an attractive drug target for this virus, and as humans don’t naturally have this enzyme, compounds that target Mpro are likely to have low toxicity,” the study said.

The scientists found that Withanone (Wi-N), a natural compound derived from Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester (CAPE), an active ingredient of New Zealand Propolis, have the potential to interact with and block the activity of Mpro.

The researchers also experimented the capability of these bioactives to modulate the encoded protein ‘transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2)’, present on the surface of human cells to which the SARS-CoV-2 binds and allows its entry into the cell and selected Withanone.

The team said their findings may not only connect to save time and cost required for screening for anti-Covid-19 drugs, but may also offer some preventive and therapeutic value for the management of fatal Covid-19 pandemic, and hence warrant prioritized validation in the laboratory and clinical tests. They added the drug development may take a while and in the current scenario, these natural resources (Ashwagandha and Propolis) may offer some preventive or even therapeutic value.

However, although they are easily available and affordable, one has to be cautious about the content of bioactive ingredients. CAPE, while being a major component of Propolis, its amount and stability are critical factors that could be managed by generating its complex with cyclodextrins. Withanone, on the other hand, varies with geography/parts/size of the Ashwagandha plant. So, in order to acquire or appreciate particular effects, we must use the right and quality-controlled resource/extracts.

“The traditional medicine system ‘Ayurveda’ has been practiced for thousands of years in India. Unlike modern medicine, the mechanism of action of natural drugs has not been resolved so far. IIT Delhi and AIST researchers have been working together for more than a decade and trying to contribute to strengthen this avenue by merging the traditional knowledge with the modern technologies,” said Prof. D. Sundar, Head of the Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology at IIT Delhi.

“While well-trusted reputation of Ashwagandha as an immunity enhancer forms a basis of the recent initiative of the Indian Government in forming an Interdisciplinary Task Force to launch its clinical research studies related to SARS-CoV-2 and the Covid-19 disease, the current research report of this team provide hints on its direct anti-viral activities,” he added.

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