With the novel coronavirus case counts still rising globally, researchers are searching high and low for treatments — sometimes in their own laboratories.

Officials with a University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering facility, in fact, were working with a company to develop a recombinant protein for another use when the coronavirus struck.

The company, which is involved in drug discovery, determined the protein could be used to treat the effects of the coronavirus, said Dennis Hensen, project manager with the Biological Process Development Facility.

The protein would not be a cure but could provide an option for people with advanced cases of COVID-19 to either prevent the need for or reduce time on a ventilator, said Scott Johnson, the facility’s production manager.

Hensen and Johnson said they could not identify the protein or explain how it functions because they have a nondisclosure agreement with the unnamed drug firm. However, the hope is that the protein could reduce some of the inflammation that can cause serious effects in some patients.

The next step for the company will be to conduct safety testing in animals. That testing must be completed before the firm could seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for clinical trials in people.

“They’re wanting to go as fast as they can,” Hensen said. “If everything goes well, you’re looking at late July, probably August for the first in-human testing.”

The facility’s job is to make a lot of the protein and to do it in a way that meets the safe manufacturing practices required of a product intended for use in humans.

Working toward a possible treatment for the novel coronavirus as the pandemic continues is particularly rewarding, Hensen said.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “Staff here can see the problem and know that they might be able to have a hand in producing something that could really make a difference. That’s the kind of thing you want to do when you go to work, is make a difference.”