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This licensed drug could help reduce COVID-19 infection by up to 70 percent

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Kuldeep Singh
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The research team, led by the Universities of Birmingham and Keele in the United Kingdom and the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Italy, showed that a licenced drug typically used to treat abnormal blood fatty substances levels can significantly reduce infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus by up to 70 percent.

Notably, infection was reduced using drug concentrations that are safe and achievable with the standard clinical dose of fenofibrate. Fenofibrate is an oral medication approved for use in the majority of countries worldwide, including the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). It is currently used to treat conditions such as high cholesterol and lipids (fatty substances) levels in the blood.

The team is now seeking clinical trials to evaluate the drug in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, in addition to the two trials currently underway in such patients at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States of America and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.

SARS-CoV-The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, infects the host via an interaction between the virus’s Spike protein and the ACE2 receptor protein on host cells.

In response to the global pandemic of COVID-19, the researchers tested a panel of already-licensed drugs — including fenofibrate — to identify candidates that disrupt ACE2 and Spike interactions. After identifying fenofibrate as a candidate, they evaluated the drug’s efficacy in reducing infection in laboratory cells using the original SARS-CoV-2 virus strains isolated in 2020.

They discovered that fenofibrate reduced infection by up to 70%. Additionally, unpublished data indicate that fenofibrate is equally effective against newer SARS-CoV-2’s variants, including the alpha and beta variants, and research into its efficacy against the delta variant is ongoing.

Corresponding author Dr Farhat Khanim, of the University of Birmingham in the UK, said:

“The development of new more infectious SARS-CoV-2 variants has resulted in a rapid expansion in infection rates and deaths in several countries around the world, especially the UK, US and Europe. Whilst vaccine programmes will hopefully reduce infection rates and virus spread in the longer term, there is still an urgent need to expand our arsenal of drugs to treat SARS-CoV-2-positive patients.”

Co-corresponding author Dr Alan Richardson, of Keele University in the UK, added: “Whilst in some countries vaccination programmes are progressing at speed, vaccine uptake rates are variable and for most low middle income countries, significant proportions of the population are unlikely to be vaccinated until 2022. Furthermore, whilst vaccination has been shown to reduce infection rates and severity of disease, we are as yet unsure of the strength and duration of the response. Therapies are still urgently needed to manage COVID-19 patients who develop symptoms or require hospitalisation.”

Co-author Dr Elisa Vicenzi, of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, said: “Our data indicates that fenofibrate may have the potential to reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and also virus spread. Given that fenofibrate is an oral drug which is very cheap and available worldwide, together with its extensive history of clinical use and its good safety profile, our data has global implications — especially in low-middle income countries and in those individuals for whom vaccines are not recommended or suitable such as children, those with hyper-immune disorders and those using immune-suppressants.”

First author Dr Scott Davies, also of the University of Birmingham, concluded: “We now urgently need further clinical studies to establish whether fenofibrate is a potential therapeutic agent to treat SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

The research, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, was also carried out in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the University of Liverpool in the UK.

Photo by Houston Cofield/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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