New Study Finds 21 Drugs That Could Treat COVID-19

These new findings could prove to be another line of defense in the fight against COVID-19.
Chris Young

A new study published in Nature by a global team of scientists has identified 21 existing drugs that stop the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The drugs, four of which were found to complement the use of remdesivir, were first identified via high-throughput screening of more than 12,000 drugs.


An urgent need for effective, readily available drugs

The scientists analyzed one of the world's largest collections of known drugs and reported 100 molecules that showed antiviral activity in laboratory tests that suggested they could block the replication of SARS-CoV-2.

Of the 100 molecules highlighted, 21 drugs were determined to be usable in quantities that would be safe in patients at the same time as being effective at treating 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,” Sumit Chanda, director of the Immunity and Pathogenesis Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys and senior author of the study, said in a press 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,” he continued.

An arsenal of weapons against the global pandemic

As part of their study, the research team evaluated the drugs on human lung biopsies that were infected with the virus. They also evaluated the drugs for synergies with remdesivir, and established dose-response relationships between the drugs and antiviral activity.

The scientists found that two of the 21 effective drugs are already FDA approved — astemizole (allergies), clofazimine (leprosy) —and 13 have previously entered clinical trials for other indications and show promise for treating COVID-19. Finally, four drugs worked 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,” says Chanda. “This report provides the scientific community with a larger arsenal of potential weapons that may help bring the ongoing global pandemic to heel.”

The drugs, which were first identified by high-throughput screening of more than 12,000 drugs from the ReFRAME drug repurposing collection, may prove another line of defense against new waves of COVID-19 as restrictions are eased worldwide.

The researchers are currently testing all 21 compounds in small animal models and lung organoids. If their research shows favorable results, they will approach the FDA to discuss clinical trials for evaluating the drugs as treatments for COVID-19.