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Simple, Safe, and Affordable COVID-19 Treatment on the Horizon

Simple, Safe, and Af fordable COVID-19 Treatment on the Horizon


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Our goal is to create a future where one treatment can effectively combat multiple viral threats, bringing us closer to a healthier, more resilient world.  

Principal Investigator // Professor Hongzhe SUN, Founder of Bi-well Pharma
Norman & Cecilia Yip Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry and Chair Professor of the Department of Chemistry
Recipient of HKU Innovator Award 2023
Professor Hongzhe SUN

Professor Hongzhe SUN
Founder of Bi-well Pharma 
Norman & Cecilia Yip Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry and Chair Professor of Department of Chemistry

In their relentless pursuit of effective COVID-19 treatments, Bi-well Pharma, led by Professor Hongzhe Sun, is emerging as a trailblazer. By repurposing FDA-approved drugs, this innovative startup has developed a cocktail therapy that not only outshines existing  treatments but also redefines simplicity, safety, and affordability. 
‘Our mission is to develop an affordable cocktail therapy not only for current pandemic but also to be prepared for future ones,’ affirmed Professor Sun.


Bi-well Pharma’s journey began with the screening of various metallodrugs, leading to identification of potent bismuth(Bi(III))- based compounds effective against the SARS virus in 2003. Before Professor Sun’s team made their discovery, who could have known that the pink bismuth liquid for stomach pain relief – the same over-the-counter bismuth-based drug likely sitting in your home right now – could be the solution to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
However, these drugs were poorly absorbed by the body because they faced limitations in the stomach environment. Undeterred, the research team made a significant discovery. They found that by combining Bi(III)-based drugs with N-acetyl cysteine, they could stabilise the Bi(III) ion in the stomach, allowing the drug to effectively reach other organs, opening new avenues for delivering the drugs to the lungs.

A Paradigm Shift in Safety and Effectiveness

‘What sets this therapy apart is its seamless integration of safety and effectiveness. The drugs utilised have a well-established safety record, having been in use for decades with minimal side effects,’ Professor Sun emphasised.
Crucially, the treatment targets multiple essential proteins in the virus at the same time, overcoming the potential of drug resistance. It has consistently demonstrated effectiveness against various virus variants, including the challenging Omicron BA5 variant.

‘The therapy outperformed other oral drugs on the market for COVID-19 in head-to-head comparisons,’ explained Professor Sun. ‘It resulted in a shorter hospital stay and a quicker reduction in viral load with comparable side effects and patient recovery time. Additionally, its easy accessibility and well-understood safety profile allow it to accommodate more patients, addressing the shortages of oral drugs that might occur during peak infection periods.’

In their persistent pursuit of innovation to make a meaningful impact on scientific progress and improve lives, they have developed a stabilised cocktail therapy with significant benefits. It enables easy oral administration, enhancing patient convenience, while also addressing a key drawback of traditional antiviral drugs. Professor Sun explained, ‘Traditional antivirals require injection by a professional to reach the lung, leading to potential side effects like kidney damage. In contrast, our stabilised cocktail therapy offers patients a less painful treatment option with fewer side effects.’ Encouraging outcomes from initial clinical trials have laid a robust foundation, and presently, Phase III trials are actively progressing in Hong Kong and Shenzhen to substantiate its efficacy further.

Future Horizons: Broad-Spectrum Antiviral Drug

Prof Sun and his team‘Beyond its impact on COVID-19, we are actively exploring the therapy’s potential as a broad-spectrum antiviral drug,’ revealed Professor Sun. He further emphasised that compared to antibiotics used for bacterial infection, board-spectrum antiviral drugs are limited in number and most of them often exhibit toxicity to human cells. In collaboration with HKU Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, the team aims to develop Bi(III) compounds not only for SARS-CoV-2 but also for other human coronavirus infections such as SARS, MERS, and coronavirus 229E. This visionary approach could revolutionise antiviral medicine, offering a singular treatment option for a range of viral infections while minimising harm to human cells.

‘Bi(III) was only used as a local drug to treat gastroduodenal disorders before. After our inventions, we open up new ways for Bi(III) to act as a drug to fight COVID-19, and also potentially as antibiotics resistance breakers– which is another topic we are now interested in.’

The interdisciplinary team, comprising chemists, microbiologists, pharmacologists, and clinicians, passionately engages in cutting-edge research driven by the potential to elevate human health. Yet, their commitment extends beyond the laboratory. ‘We understand the profound impact on patients battling to preserve their well-being, emphasising not only science but also the enhancement of their quality of life. With an unwavering focus on accessibility, we aspire to translate this transformative science into tangible daily solutions that contribute to a healthier and more fulfilling existence for all,’ Professor Sun concluded.

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