A groundbreaking new study from the University of Michigan in the United States reveals several drug contenders already in use for other purposes – including a dietary supplement – that have been shown to block or reduce SARS-CoV2 infection in cells.
The study, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses artificial intelligence-powered image analysis of human cell lines during infection with the new coronavirus.
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The cells were treated with more than 1,400 FDA-approved drugs and individual compounds (the US equivalent of Anvisa), before or after viral infection, and examined, resulting in 17 potential results. Ten of these results have recently been recognized, with seven identified in previous drug reuse studies, including remdesivir, which is one of the few FDA-approved therapies for Covid-19 in hospitalized patients.
“Traditionally, the drug development process takes a decade – and we just don’t have a decade,” said Jonathan Sexton, Ph.D., assistant professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan School of Medicine and one of the paper’s senior authors. . “The therapies we discovered are well positioned for phase 2 clinical trials because their safety has already been established.”
The team validated the 17 candidate compounds in several cell types, including stem cells derived from human lung cells in an effort to simulate SARS-CoV2 infection of the respiratory tract. Nine showed antiviral activity at reasonable doses, including lactoferrin, a protein found in human breast milk that is also available as a dietary supplement derived from cow’s milk.
“We found lactoferrin to be remarkably effective in preventing infections, working better than anything else we’ve seen,” Sexton said. He adds that early data suggest that this efficacy even extends to new SARS-CoV2 variants, including the highly transmissible Delta variant.
The team is launching clinical trials of the compound to examine its ability to reduce viral loads and inflammation in patients with SARS-CoV2 infection.
Trials are adding to the list of ongoing studies of promising reused drugs. Sexton noted that throughout the pandemic, other drug reuse studies identified different compounds with potential efficacy against SARS-CoV2. “The results seem to depend on which cellular system is used,” he said.
“But there is an emerging consensus around a subset of drugs and these are the ones that have the highest priority for clinical translation. We fully expect that most of them will not work in humans, but we anticipate that there will be some who will.”
Notably, the UM study also identified a class of compounds called MEK inhibitors, commonly prescribed to treat cancer, that appear to worsen SARS-CoV2 infection.
The next step, he noted, is to use electronic health records to see if patients taking these drugs have worse Covid-19 results.
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