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Tapeworm remedy shows “strongest effect”: Scientists find new active ingredients against coronavirus

Tapeworm remedy against Sars-CoV-2 is supposed to inhibit the spread of the virus in the body

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Kuldeep Singh
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Sars-CoV-2 manipulates cells in order to multiply in the body undisturbed. Researchers at the Charité and the Bonn University Hospital have investigated this mechanism. 

In a second step, they identified four ways to prevent it – including the use of a tapeworm remedy.

If viruses penetrate the body, they have one big goal: They want to multiply there without being detected by the immune system. 

In order for them to succeed, they have to manipulate the body cells into which they have penetrated. The way this is done varies from virus to virus. 

A team of German scientists has now investigated which strategy Sars-CoV-2 is pursuing – and in a second step identified active substances that could successfully counteract this manipulation. 

Accordingly, Sars-CoV-2 proceeds as follows in the body to prevent it from being recognized and disposed of as a “waste product”:

“The new coronavirus throttles the cell’s own recycling mechanism – the so-called autophagy. This process of ‘self-digestion’ is used to produce molecular building blocks for new cell structures by breaking down damaged cell material and waste products.”

Study author Nils Gassen explains:

“In our study, we were able to show that Sars-CoV-2 uses the building blocks of cells for its own purposes, but at the same time simulates nutritional abundance and thus slows down cellular recycling.”

Marcel Müller from the Charité adds:

“Sars-CoV-2 probably escapes its own degradation in this way, because viruses are also disposed of by the cell via autophagy.”

Four agents could stop coronaviruses – including a tapeworm agent

So the question is: is there a drug that can stimulate cell recycling to slow down the uninhibited spread of Sars-CoV-2 in the body? The researchers were able to identify four active ingredients that seem suitable for this:

  • the tapeworm remedy niclosamide
  • the body’s own substance spermine
  • the body’s own substance spermidine
  • the not yet approved cancer drug MK-2206

Further investigations are necessary for all four substances before they can be used in the fight against Sars-CoV-2. 

So far, the researchers have already been able to gain the following findings in laboratory tests:

Niclosamide

The tapeworm remedy niclosamide has already shown effectiveness against Mers coronaviruses in an earlier study. The research team had now examined whether it is also effective against Sars-CoV-2. 

The result: “Niclosamide showed the strongest effect in our cell culture studies and has also been a drug that has been approved for tapeworm infections for years and is well tolerated in potentially effective doses,” says Müller.

In the experiment, it was able to reduce the production of infectious Sars-CoV-2 particles by more than 99 percent. 

“We think it is the most promising of the four new drug candidates. That is why we are now testing in a clinical study at the Charité whether niclosamide can also have positive effects on people affected by Covid-19.”

Spermine and spermidine

Spermidine is a polyamine that is found in every cell in the body. Some foods also contain spermidine, such as wheat germ, soy, mushrooms and mature cheese. Earlier laboratory tests have already shown that if cells infected with Sars-CoV-2 received spermidine, they produced 85 percent fewer infectious virus particles. Spermine, which is formed from spermidine, had a similar effect.

Marcel Müller warns against jumping to conclusions. So far, pure substances have been worked with, “which in this form are not suitable for drug use. In particular, spermidine is noticeably effective in cell culture only at a very high concentration. Before one can consider polyamines for treatment of Covid-19, there are still many questions to be clarified: Is it even possible to achieve a concentration in the blood in the organism that is sufficient to inhibit the virus replication in the respiratory tract? And if so, would it make sense to give it before or during the infection? Are there any side effects?”

The findings from cell culture are a good starting point for studies on animal models – and later possibly on humans.

MK-2206

Cancer specialists actually deal with the active ingredient MK-2206. It is a potential drug for patients with advanced cancer that has not yet been approved. Clinical studies are currently investigating which types of cancer MK-2206 is effective against – and whether it is tolerable for the patient.

The research team from Charité and University Hospital Bonn has now investigated whether MK-2206 could also be used against Sars-CoV-2. They found that it could reduce the production of infectious viruses by around 90 percent.

“Based on our data, I consider MK-2206 to be an interesting drug candidate against Covid-19, which, after a careful risk-benefit analysis, would also justify clinical studies,” explains Müller.

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