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Coronavirus: Drug that reduces the viral load by 99% – Effective in mutations as well

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An existing active ingredient that has been tested for various diseases can now become a valuable weapon in the COVID-19 drug quiver – Reduces viral load and works just as effectively on mutated strains of the virus – Research shows.

A new study from the University of Chicago suggests that the active ingredient masitinib may be effective in treating COVID-19

The findings were published in Science.

The drug, which has undergone various clinical trials for some diseases but has not yet been approved for treatment in humans, inhibited the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in human cell cultures and animal models, leading to much lower viral loads.

Researchers from UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory also found that the drug could be effective against various types of coronaviruses and picornaviruses. Also, due to the way it inhibits replication, the drug has been shown to remain effective against COVID-19 mutations.

“Inhibitors of the main protease of SARS-CoV-2, like masitinib, could be a new potential way to treat COVID patients, especially in early stages of the disease,” said Prof. Savas Tay, who led the research.

“COVID-19 will likely be with us for many years, and novel coronaviruses will continue to arise. Finding existing drugs that have antiviral properties can be an essential part of treating these diseases.”

Effective against mutant strains and other viruses

The researchers then collaborated with colleagues at the University of Louisville to put the medication to the test in a mouse model. It decreased the SARS-CoV-2 virus load by more than 99 percent and inflammatory cytokine levels in mice, according to the researchers.

Parallel to this, the researchers started testing the medication against additional viruses in cell cultures and discovered that it was also effective against picornaviruses, which include Hepatitis A, polio, and rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold.

They also tested it in cell cultures against three SARS-CoV-2 subtypes, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma, and discovered that it performed as effectively against all three, owing to the fact that it attaches to the protease rather than the virus’s surface.

Now, the team is collaborating with AB Science, the pharmaceutical firm that created the medication, to improve it even further as an antiviral. Meanwhile, masitinib may be used in human clinical trials as a COVID-19 therapy in the future.

“Masitinib has the potential to be an effective antiviral now, especially when someone is first infected and the antiviral properties of the drug will have the biggest effect,” said Nir Drayman, a postdoctoral fellow who specializes in virology.

“This isn’t the first novel coronavirus outbreak, and it’s not going to be the last. In addition to vaccines, we need to have new treatments available to help those who have been infected.”

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