In a global effort against fighting coronavirus infection, scientists from the University of Birmingham (UK), Keele University (UK), and the San Raffaele Scientific Institute (Milan) have found that a medication used for keeping cholesterol levels in check could be effective against SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Various in-vitro (lab) studies show that a generic medicine, called fenofibrate, helps decrease COVID (SARS-CoV-2) infection in human cells by around 70%.
Initially, scientists tested various licensed drugs. Their main focus was to find a medicine that prevented the binding of the spike protein on SARS-CoV-2 to the human cells so that they can repurpose that medicine as a treatment for COVID-19.
Dr. Alan Richardson, the co-corresponding study author of Keele University, said they have tested over 100 medications and observed that fibric acids are the most effective.
Clofibrate to Fenofibrate
At first, they worked on Clofibrate. However, owing to its side effects, they switched to fenofibrate.
Doctors (worldwide) have been using fenofibrate to regulate cholesterol levels until statins came into the market. Statins came with the added advantage. They also decreased the possibility of cardiovascular ailments.
In in-vitro experiments, the doctors found that fenofibrate weakened the spike protein while preventing it from attaching to the ACE2 membrane protein. The ACE2 protein is the medium through which the coronavirus enters human cells).
Fenofibrate – effective against all variants
Fenofibrate works effectively against the Alpha and Beta variants of the coronavirus. Researchers are now studying its efficacy on the Delta variant.
After several tests with the isolated protein, the scientists repeated the same test with the live coronavirus. And the result showed that fenofibrate works equally well against the live virus too.
Expanding COVID-19 treatment arsenal
Dr. Farhat Khanim, the co-corresponding study author and the director of research in the School of Biomedical Sciences, the University of Birmingham, opines that there are high-risk patients for whom COVID-19 vaccines might not work. Therefore, it is crucial to expand the treatment options (drugs) to treat the infection.
The researchers observed how much virus the infected cells released post-treatment using fenofibrate. Although it was an in-vitro experiment, the results showed that the viral release was reduced by 60% in comparison to the untreated cells.
A point to consider
It is because of the reproduction and spread of the virus in the cells that you develop symptoms. The reason – your immune system tries to fight the virus. So, if a medication can decrease the rate of viral release, it should also prevent severe complications and hospitalization and minimize the chances of contamination.
If the scientists can replicate the lab-based results in clinical trials, it would be great for low to middle-income nations that are yet to get vaccinated.
The reasons –
- Firstly, fenofibrate is readily available.
- Secondly, it is an oral medication.
- And, thirdly, it is cheap.
The journey from lab to clinical trials is yet to start.
Dr. Peter English, the immediate past chair of the BMA PHMC (public health medicine committee) and a retired communicable disease control consultant, says if it happens (lab to clinical trial), it would add another medication to the arsenal against COVID-19.
As all the findings are around the lab trials and not clinical, the study authors ensure advising caution. However, they are interested in getting started with clinical trials to evaluate if fenofibrate can be a potential drug for COVID-19 treatments. Dr. Khanim says – she is looking forward to clinical trials, especially in symptomatic and high-risk populations, to observe if the drugs help prevent hospitalization.
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