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Infectious Diseases

Updated 31 July 2020

Study identifies 21 existing drugs that could treat Covid-19

A global team of scientists just revealed 21 drugs that could stop the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

  • A new study identified 21 drugs that could be used against Covid-19 
  • While these drugs still need to be clinically tested, they're already known to be safe for humans
  • Four of these drugs work in synergy with remdesivir, a treatment that was emergency-approved for Covid-19 treatment

As remdesivir and dexamethasone made headlines in the past months as drugs that could potentially prevent many Covid-19-related deaths, a team led by Sumit Chanda, a professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, have identified 21 existing drugs that could halt replication of SARS-CoV-2.

The scientists analysed a large number of existing medications to find out which ones may block the replication of SARS-CoV-2.  From this collection, 21 drugs were found to be effective in blocking the replication of the novel coronavirus in dosages that have already been deemed safe for use in patients.

Four of these medications are also known to work well together with remdesivir, which is currently a standard treatment for Covid-19.

"Remdesivir has proven successful at shortening the recovery time for patients in the hospital, but the drug doesn't work for everyone who receives it. That's not good enough," Chanda stated in a news release. "As infection rates continue to rise in America and around the world, the urgency remains to find affordable, effective, and readily available drugs that can complement the use of remdesivir, as well as drugs that could be given prophylactically or at the first sign of infection on an outpatient basis."

The new research was published in the journal Nature.

What did the researchers find?

The scientists investigated the existing drugs by means of extensive testing and validation studies, which included the evaluation of the drugs on human lung biopsies infected with the virus. They also looked at the synergies some drugs formed with remdesivir and looked at the doses and efficacy of their antiviral capacity.

The scientists found the following about the 21 drugs:

  • 13 of the drugs were tested in previous clinical trials and could work effectively in safe doses.
  • Two of the drugs, known as astemizole (for allergies) and clofazimine (usually used for leprosy), are already FDA approved. Remdesivir has received emergency use status for Covid-19 from the FDA.
  • Four of the drugs work synergistically with remdesivir.

"This study significantly expands the possible therapeutic options for Covid-19 patients, especially since many of the molecules already have clinical safety data in humans," said Chanda. "This report provides the scientific community with a larger arsenal of potential weapons that may help bring the ongoing global pandemic to heel."

Further testing

The scientists are continuing to test these 21 drugs in small animal models and lung organoids that mimic human tissue. As soon as favourable results are obtained, the FDA will be approached to evaluate the drugs for further clinical trials.

"Based on our current analysis, clofazimine, hanfangchin A, apilimod and ONO 5334 represent the best near-term options for an effective Covid-19 treatment," stated Chanda in the news release. "While some of these drugs are currently in clinical trials for Covid-19, we believe it's important to pursue additional drug candidates so that we will have multiple therapeutic options if SARS-CoV-2 becomes drug-resistant."

READ | What local experts say about dexamethasone

READ | Remdesivir can save lives and shorten time in ICU, particularly in SA, researchers say

READ | How an Ebola drug might fight Covid-19

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