Thirty-one broad-spectrum antiviral drugs that already exist and are well tolerated in humans could provide a rapid initial response to the potential COVID-19 pandemic, according to a research consortium.
The outbreak of Covid-19 is spreading worldwide. The number of people infected with this new coronavirus continues to rise. According to experts, there will be no vaccine for at least a year, and unless there is a revolution, no specific treatment will be developed for some time.
This means that doctors will have to look at existing drugs that are known to be well tolerated in humans and whose mechanisms of action can interfere with the metabolism of Covid-19: this is the “repurposing” of drugs.
A coalition of European researchers has carried out an in-depth analysis of existing antiviral databases. They claim that 31 antiviral molecules already approved or partially developed for other diseases could hold the key to the first treatment of the new virus. Their results have been published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.
31 antiviral candidates
Using this antiviral broad-spectrum database and current knowledge on the metabolism of coronaviruses, they have reviewed information on the discovery and development of various molecules, including antiviral broad-spectrum agents targeting viruses belonging to two or more different virus families.
They summarized what they found for 119 drugs that have already been shown to be safe for humans and published the results in an open-access database. Thirty-one of these broad-spectrum antiviral drugs are considered by the researchers to be potential candidates for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19 infections; at least in the short term (resistance to antiviral drugs is developing slightly).
Other candidates from different classes of drugs
However, drug repurposing is not only about antiviral agents. Other molecules would be of interest, such as certain antibiotics and antiparasitic drugs. For example, dalbavancin, teicoplanin, monensin , and oritavancin are antibiotics that have already been approved and have been shown in the laboratory to inhibit coronavirus and other viruses.
More recently, remdesivir, an antiretroviral drug, and chloroquine, a malaria anti parasitic, may be of interest, according to a Chinese study. An indirect argument in favor of the latter would be the “paradoxical rarity” of the new coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa, a part of the continent that appears to have been spared (apart from diagnostic shortcomings) and where chloroquine is consumed by travelers, including undoubtedly the many Chinese who go to work there.
Faster and cheaper availability
The advantage of transforming a drug is that all the details of its development are already known, from the stages of chemical synthesis and manufacturing processes to information on the various phases of clinical trials.
Consequently, the repurposing of drugs already on the market, or even of those that could not treat other viral diseases during their development, offers much greater opportunities for short-term success. The development of new drugs and vaccines specific to the new coronavirus will most likely take much longer and cost more.
At the same time, the researchers reported that clinical research on five potential drug candidates for the treatment of Covid-19 have recently begun.