COVID-19 treatment: Scientists say brand new flu drug might help in reducing viral load, prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission
Scientists believe a brand new influenza drug that can help in inhibiting COVID-19 virus replication, may help reduce the morbidity and mortality due to the novel coronavirus
As COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the entire world, scientists and doctors are working round the clock to find out a cure or medicine for the treatment of this contagious disease. Since some of the symptoms of this disease are flu-like (such as cough, fever and breathlessness), doctors have been using medicines used to treat influenza such as oseltamivir to treat the patients clinically.
However, in an article published in the journal Nature on 2 June, 2020, it was reported that rather than using the currently available flu medicines, a new antiviral influenza drug, Baloxavir, may have better potency of restraining the virus.
Baloxavir: New antiviral influenza drug
It is a known fact that when a virus enters a body, it starts growing by replicating itself but its growth can be restricted by the immune response of the body and antiviral treatment.
In this study, the researchers initially studied oseltamivir, available as Tamiflu, for the treatment of flu-like diseases. Then they tested the effect of a brand new antiviral drug, Baloxavir, available as Xofluza, on the patients.
The study was conducted on 1,014 patients who had the influenza virus. The scientists tested the viral loads of these patients and then divided them into three groups, who were treated with oseltamivir, baloxavir and a placebo.
Baloxavir treatment: Faster and better
The initial step of virus multiplication is cap snatching, where the viral polymerase (which help in virus replication) binds to the baby virus structures, known as pre-mRNA. The endonuclease enzyme present in the viral polymerase helps in breaking down these baby virus structures and converts them into capped RNA fragments. These RNA fragments are the primary ingredient for the virus replication.
Baloxavir restricts the cap-dependent endonuclease enzyme, thus there is a little or no initiation of virus multiplication, which leads to a reduction in viral load.
The results of the study showed that as soon as the drugs, baloxavir or oseltamivir, were given to the patients, they showed around 84 percent decrease in virus load within the first day. When compared with the group that got a placebo, the viral load decreased by 56 percent.
The study further showed that patients who were treated with baloxavir became completely non-infectious within two days. However, the ones who got treated with oseltamivir remained infectious for about four to five days.
The study concluded that baloxavir treatment has better ability to reduce the overall burden of influenza virus in the body when compared with oseltamivir treatment.
Need for a similar drug to prevent COVID-19
Since the results of the study showed that in the patients who got baloxavir, there was an optimal reduction of overall infection within 24 hours after the symptom onset, a similar drug can help in the cases of COVID-19 .
The scientists believe that a drug like that can help in inhibiting COVID-19 virus replication, thus reducing morbidity and mortality worldwide.
Drugs repurposed for the treatment of COVID-19
In the absence of any specific treatment for COVID-19 infection, doctors have been trying to repurpose various drugs to reduce the viral load in the body of the patients and simultaneously improve their clinical symptoms. Drugs such as remdesivir (Ebola drug), hydroxychloroquine (antimalarial drug), tocilizumab and baricitinib (rheumatoid arthritis drugs), favipiravir (flu drug), ivermectin (antiparasitic drug) and many others are being tested for the treatment of patients suffering from COVID-19 infection or as prophylaxis.
For more information, read our article on COVID-19 treatment: Scientists are trying out these existing drugs to find a cure.
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