Old FDA Approved Drugs Could Hold Key To Treatment For COVID-19, Researchers Hypothesize

Large teams of scientists in University of California, San Francisco, led by Nevan Krogan, Director of Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI), are looking at providing a quick solution to kill the novel coronavirus, referred to as SARS-CoV-2. Previously approved drugs by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that are readily available could save time because the agency on average takes 12 years to approve a drug.

Researchers have found 27 such FDA approved drugs that have potential. Currently, 22 labs collectively called QBI Coronavirus Research Group (QCRG) are working towards the goal at breakneck speed, seven days a week without a break. It's almost like they are preparing to arm themselves against an enemy at war with them. 

Two Potential Routes To Finding A Cure

One way of dealing with the coronavirus is to directly target the virus' proteins and prevent them from rampantly replicating the genetic material of human cells for their own advantage. Remdesivir, a drug which was once in line to cure Ebola but ultimately got shelved during the third stage of the clinical trial, is now in the clinical trial stage to tackle COVID-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that this is the only drug that has shown potential to treat COVID-19 so far. However, there is one major disadvantage because viruses eventually mutate and change with time. This is precisely why new flu vaccines are developed every year.  

Drugs A systematic review by University of Pennsylvania found 115 treatments that were used to experimentally treat COVID-19. Pixabay

Another approach could turn out to be more promising: finding a drug to block the virus' protein from altogether interacting with human protein cells. This has more chances of working because human cells do not change with the same speed. The drug could continue to work for a long period of time, even against other viruses in the future. 

What The Study Found

As part of the experiment, the team fished human cells for viral proteins and named them the “bait.” They then tried to bind these baits with human cells grown by researchers in the lab. Everything that merged with lab-grown human proteins were considered molecular targets. The team’s job was to find these compounds that stuck to these target cells and used them to multiply.  

The team needed to identify safe compounds that could prevent the virus from replicating without being toxic to the body. Since there is no time to go through the conventional clinical trials, a fast track method would be to run a check on the 20,000 FDA drugs already deemed safe. 

In a paper that is pending for peer review, the researchers stated that they found 332 human proteins that the virus could potentially latch on to infect the human cells. Furthermore, the team narrowed down 69 existing drugs that could safely interfere with the baits infecting the identified proteins.

Of them, 27 are FDA approved already, while 42 are hanging in the clinical or preclinical stage. They hope labs around the world can start testing these drugs to come up with a cure.