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21 existing drugs identified as possible treatment for coronavirus

The replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can be prevented by several existing drugs, according to a global team of scientists. 

Due to the lengthy vaccination development process, repositioning clinically evaluated drugs has been recognised as a practical strategy for identifying treatments of new infectious diseases like COVID-19. A range of clinical studies has focused on repurposing several antiviral therapies. Remdesivir has already been granted emergency use authorisation for the treatment of COVID-19, as a reduction in time to recovery has been demonstrated in clinical trials. 

Published in Nature, an international team of scientists analysed one of the world’s largest collections of known drugs. This library included approximately 12,000 clinical-stage or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved small molecules. Laboratory tests confirmed that 100 of these molecules had antiviral activity, and 21 were found to be effective at a concentration safe for humans. Four of the drugs were also found to work in harmony with Remdesivir, which, is already a coronavirus treatment that aids in shorter recovery time. 

Extensive tests were performed on human lung biopsies to evaluate the antiviral activity, the dose-response, and the interaction with Remdesivir. Twenty-one of the drugs were effective in blocking the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Two of these drugs are already FDA approved for other conditions, and one of the four drugs that work in synergy with Remdesivir has already reached phase 3 clinical trials. 

As some of the drugs already have clinical safety data in humans, this bodes well for finding possible therapeutic options for treating COVID-19. Although some are already being tested in clinical trials, the others may be additional candidates, opening up a wider variety of treatment options. The urgency remains to find drugs that can work alongside Remdesivir in the treatment of COVID-19, or that can be offered prophylactically at the first sign of infection.

All 21 molecules continue to be tested in small animal models and, if successful, will then be put to the FDA for approval to enter clinical trials for the treatment of coronavirus. It is suggested that with the known human safety profiles of these molecules, it will allow for accelerated clinical evaluation of these drugs for the treatment of COVID-19.

Written by Helen Massy, BSc.


EurekAlert!. 2020. Nature Study Identifies 21 Existing Drugs That Could Treat COVID-19. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 July 2020].

Riva, L., Yuan, S., Yin, X. et al. Discovery of SARS-CoV-2 antiviral drugs through large-scale compound repurposing. Nature (2020).

Image by Omni Matryx from Pixabay 



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