A study by the University of Michigan (United States) has identified several drugs that are already used for other purposes, including a dietary supplement, that has been shown to block or reduce the infection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid- 19, in cells.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses artificial intelligence-based image analysis of human cell lines during infection with the new coronavirus. The cells were treated with more than 1,400 US-approved drugs and individual compounds, before or after viral infection, and analyzed, resulting in 17 possible outcomes.
Trials are to be launched to examine its ability to reduce viral load
Ten of those results were recently recognized, and seven were identified in previous drug reuse studies, including remdesivir, which is one of the few therapies approved for COVID in hospitalized patients.
“Traditionally, the drug development process lasts a decade, and we don’t have a decade. The therapies we discover are well positioned for phase 2 clinical trials because their safety has already been established,” says Dr. Jonathan Sexton, one of the main authors of the article.
The team validated the 17 candidate compounds in various cell types, including stem cell-derived human lung cells, in an effort to mimic SARS-CoV2 respiratory tract infection. Nine showed antiviral activity at reasonable doses, including lactoferrin, a protein found in human breast milk that can also be purchased over the counter as a dietary supplement derived from cow’s milk.
“We found that lactoferrin had a notable effectiveness and to prevent infection, and it worked better than anything else us to observe,” says Sexton. Early data suggest that this efficacy extends even to newer SARS-CoV2 variants, including the highly transmissible Delta variant.
The team will shortly launch clinical trials of the compound to examine its ability to reduce viral load and inflammation in patients with SARS-CoV2 infection. Surprisingly, this research has also identified a class of compounds called MEK inhibitors, typically prescribed to treat cancer, that appears to worsen SARS-CoV2 infection. The finding sheds light on how the virus spreads between cells.
People undergoing chemotherapy are already at risk due to lowered immune responses. We have to investigate whether some of these drugs worsen disease progression,” Sexton said. The next step is to use electronic health records to see if patients taking these drugs have worse COVID-19 outcomes.