A commonly accessible medication may aid in the fight against COVID-19.

  • Laboratory studies suggest that a very inexpensive generic medication significantly decreases SARS-CoV-2 infection in human cells by up to 70%.
  • The medication, fenofibrate, controls cholesterol levels but also destabilizes the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and prevents its binding to human cells.
  • It was efficient against all SARS-CoV-2 variants tested in vitro by the investigators.

An international collaboration of scientists from Keele University in the United Kingdom, the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan have discovered that a drug previously used to control cholesterol levels may be an effective treatment for COVID-19.

A commonly accessible medication may aid in the fight against COVID-19 - Photo by Morsa Images/Getty Images
A commonly accessible medication may aid in the fight against COVID-19 – Photo by Morsa Images/Getty Images

The study’s findings will be published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.

The researchers began by testing various approved medications. They were seeking medicines that inhibited connections between the viral spike protein — the portion of the virus that attaches to host cells — and the surface of human cells to determine if the pharmaceuticals might be repurposed as a COVID-19 therapy.

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Dr. Alan Richardson, the co-corresponding research author from Keele University, told: “We evaluated over 100 medicines and determined that fibric acidsTrusted Source had the highest promise.” Clofibrate first appeared to be a decent option, but it has certain side effects, so we looked into fenofibrate.”

Fenofibrate was created by scientists in the 1980sTrusted Source, and it was extensively used by doctors to manage people’s cholesterol levels. It was popular until statins were discovered, which have the extra advantage of lowering the risk of heart disease.

Statins are presently used by about 30 million people globally. However, some individuals who are unable to tolerate statins continue to take fenofibrate.

The researchers discovered that fenofibrate destabilized the spike protein and prevented its attachment to the ACE2Trusted Source membrane protein, which is required for viral entry into cells.

Defending against SARS-CoV-2 variations

The medication is effective against the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha and Beta versions, and the team is now testing it against the Delta type.

“Because the medication impacts several targets, not just the spike protein, resistance development will be more difficult, and new variations should not be able to evade the effect.” — Alan Richardson, Ph.D.

Following the success with the separated protein, the team’s other researchers performed the trials with the live virus and discovered that fenofibrate was similarly effective against the live virus.

Dr. Farhat Khanim, director of research at the University of Birmingham’s School of Biomedical Sciences, tested the medication against a live virus. She was optimistic about its prospects.

“We are cautiously optimistic. We must lose sight of the reality that some groups of patients at high risk will not benefit from the vaccine,” she told MNT. “There is an ongoing critical need to extend our arsenal of medicines to treat SARS-CoV-2 […].”

“The medication appears to work regardless of spike mutations,” Dr. Khanim stated.

The researchers next determined the amount of virus released by infected cells following in vitro treatment with fenofibrate. They discovered a 60% reduction in viral release when compared to untreated cells. Other medications, such as statins, had no such impact.

“Fenofibrate appears to be more effective than statins.” — Farhat Khanim, Ph.D.

The replication and spread of the virus within cells are what produce the symptoms as the body attempts to regulate the infection. A medication that inhibits viral replication should avoid severe illness and hospitalization, as well as minimize the chance of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 transmitting the virus to others.

Inviting clinical trials

Because the medication may be taken orally and the molecule is very inexpensive, fenofibrate may prove helpful for low- and middle-income nations that have been unable to advance with immunization.

“Fenofibrate is readily available,” Dr. Richardson continued. We anticipate that a course of therapy would cost around £10–20 [$14–28].”

Dr. Peter English, a former consultant in communicable disease prevention and immediate past head of the British Medical Association’s public health medicine committee, notes that “if this in vitro discovery translates into a beneficial clinical impact, it may add another medication to our arsenal.” Dr. English was not a part of the most current study.

He continues, “[a]t the moment, however, all of this is very hypothetical, as this medication has not yet progressed beyond laboratory-based research.”

The authors of the researchers caution against concluding their findings, given they are all based on laboratory experiments. They are now eager to initiate clinical studies to evaluate fenofibrate as a possible COVID-19 treatment drug.

“I would want to see clinical studies conducted in high-risk groups in the community with symptoms, intending to initiate therapy early and avoid hospitalization,” Dr. Khanim told MNT.

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