Hundreds of trials are currently underway to find out how a variety of drugs or remedies may help fight the novel coronavirus. Medications for treating hepatitis are thought to be potentially useful.
There is currently no known cure or vaccine for SARS-CoV-2. At this time, doctors are using old drugs meant for other medical conditions to treat patients.
Researchers say some of the existing drugs, including hepatitis medications, could potentially be helpful to patients based on available evidence.
While health authorities might argue that these medicines are not approved for COVID-19, they at least offer something to fall back on pending when a cure can be found.
Treating coronavirus with nucleotide analogs
Medications that are typically employed in the treatment of hepatitis are nucleotide analogs. This class of drugs treats a variety of infectious viruses and fights cancer.
Nucleotide analogs target both DNA and RNA polymerases in cells and viruses. Through them, scientists have been able to get a better idea of how DNA and RNA polymerases function.
One particular drug in this class is getting increased attention at the moment for its potential to help COVID-19 patients. The medication in focus is remdesivir, which was originally developed for Ebola treatment.
Doctors in China, Italy, and the U.S. are already using the nucleotide analog on patients with severe SARS-CoV-2 infections.
Remdesivir inhibits the ability of a virus to multiply in the body. It replaces one of the pathogen’s building blocks with a fake, according to Medscape. In animal studies, the drug blocked the SARS and MERS viruses from replicating.
Why hepatitis meds may help
The COVID-19 virus is an RNA virus just like the ones responsible for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. These viruses manifest in different ways in patients, but drugs used against a particular type may also help fight another to an extent. This, for instance, is why HIV drugs are sometimes used to treat hepatitis.
The antivirals, such as those for HIV and hepatitis, target M protease. This enzyme enables viruses to form by extracting proteins from long chains.
However, the drugs block these proteases. This drastically reduces the ability of the viruses to multiply, resulting in a sharp drop in their numbers. The pathogens become undetectable as a result of these drugs.
Stephen Burley, a structural biologist, and oncologist at Rutgers University told Science News that M protease is present in the novel coronavirus. This suggests that hepatitis drugs, as well as those for HIV, could help fight it.
According to the Advisory Board Daily Briefing, ribavirin helps to inhibit the enzyme RNA-dependent RNA polymerase within cells. The drug keeps the virus that is responsible for hepatitis C from replicating.
A hepatitis drug was among the four that were proposed by a group of researchers in January for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2.
Medications for viral hepatitis are among those currently being studied in COVID-19 clinical trials in China.
David Ho, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University told The Guardian that it was worthwhile studying how drugs, such as those for hepatitis, might help. However, he thought the “chances of finding something very useful” was low.
Can drugs meant for HIV treat the new coronavirus? | Advisory Board Daily Briefing (https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/02/20/coronavirus-treatment)
Doctors Look to Existing Drugs in Coronavirus Fight (https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/925402)
Nucleotide Analogues as Probes for DNA and RNA Polymerases (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3149870/)
Repurposed drugs may help scientists fight the new coronavirus | Science News (https://www.sciencenews.org/article/coronavirus-covid19-repurposed-treatments-drugs)
Hopes rise over experimental drug’s effectiveness against coronavirus | World news | The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/10/hopes-rise-over-experimental-drugs-effectiveness-against-coronavirus)