Pre-approved antiviral drugs could be first line of defense for COVID-19 infection

These drugs are good candidates for treating the disease to start with, since there are no treatments for the new coronavirus.

Already approved broad-spectrum antiviral drugs may offer a first-line treatment for the novel coronavirus which has so far killed over 2,700 people and infected around 80,000, according to a study unveiled on Thursday.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) noted that there is no vaccine or cure for the virus insight. This means that doctors can do little more than offer supportive treatment to the very sick, and hope their bodies can survive the infection, they said.

Representational image. Reuters

Already approved broad-spectrum antiviral drugs may offer a first-line treatment for the novel coronavirus. Image credit: Reuters

According to the study, published as a pre-proof in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, already approved drugs might hold the key to treating the new virus.

"Drug repurposing is a strategy for generating additional value from an existing drug by targeting diseases other than that for which it was originally intended," said Denis Kainov, an associate professor at NTNU.

"For example, teicoplanin, oritavancin, dalbavancin and monensin are approved antibiotics that have been shown to inhibit corona- and other viruses in the laboratory," Kainov said.

The researchers said these and other already tested "safe-in-man" broad-spectrum antiviral drugs are good candidates for treating the disease to start with, given that there are currently no treatments for the new coronavirus.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus called COVID-19 can cause mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever. It can be more severe for some persons and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties.

The researchers noted that the advantage of repurposing a drug is that all of the details surrounding the drug development are already known. These include the chemical synthesis steps, manufacturing processes, and information regarding the different phases of clinical testing.

"Repositioning of launched or even failed drugs to viral diseases provides unique translational opportunities, including a substantially higher probability of success to market as compared with developing new virus-specific drugs and vaccines," the researchers said.

It also offers significantly reduced cost and timeline to clinical availability, they said.

The researchers reviewed information on the discovery and development of broad-spectrum antiviral agents (BSAAs), which are drugs that target viruses from two or more different viral families. They summarised what they found for 120 drugs that had already been shown to be safe for human use and created a database. Thirty-one of these were found by the researchers to be possible candidates for prophylaxis and treatment of the COVID-19 infections.

The researchers also found that clinical investigations have recently begun five possible drug candidates to treat the COVID-19 virus.

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