Existing drugs may hold the key to curing COVID-19

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Developing new drugs to treat diseases can take years or decades—time that we do not have when it comes to treating patients with COVID-19.

In a new study from Northeastern University, researchers found another way to discover treatments for the disease: parsing through drugs that already exist.

And, after considering all the drugs that are currently available to patients to treat myriad other ailments, they identified four strong contenders to treat COVID-19.

Looking at existing drugs is a much faster and cheaper approach than developing something new because the drugs already exist and they’re generally already approved by regulatory authorities, so can be put straight into clinical trials to test whether they can work to beat the new disease.

But doing that for every individual drug on the market isn’t very efficient. There are thousands.

In the study, the team used a network medicine approach to scan a database of existing drugs for characteristics that might make them good at treating COVID-19.

They examined the network of cellular interactions that occur as the virus that causes COVID-19 establishes itself in the human body and used that information to figure out what existing drugs might disrupt that process.

Using artificial intelligence and other network science tools, the researchers ranked around 7,000 drugs and selected 918 for further screening to determine if they would be viable treatments for COVID-19 in the real world.

In the laboratory, 918 drugs were tested to treat COVID-19 in green monkey cells first. Then, the best-performing ones out of the top 200 were tested in human cells.

Of those drugs screened, six prevented the virus from reproducing (and thus killed it off) without killing the human cells.

Four of those six drugs could feasibly be repurposed and potentially deployed in COVID-19 patients, the team says.

the crucial next step will be to run clinical trials of these drugs to treat COVID-19 patients.

If you care about COVID-19, please read studies about this common stomach drug may help fight COVID-19 and findings of some pre-existing conditions triple Covid-19 death risk.

For more information about COVID-19 prevention and treatment, please see recent studies about a new way to stop COVID-19 infection, prevent severe organ damage and results showing that this health problem is a key sign of COVID-19 in frail, older people.

The study is published in PNAS. One author of the study is Deisy Morselli Gysi.

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