New research zooms in on several antiviral drugs that scientists could repurpose to treat infections with the novel coronavirus. These drugs include teicoplanin, oritavancin, dalbavancin, monensin, and emetine.

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Scientists are looking to repurpose existing drugs to treat the novel coronavirus.

According to the latest report from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently 81,109 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — a condition that develops due to infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 — around the world.

Worldwide, 2,762 people have already died as a result of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

There is currently no cure for this infection, meaning that physicians and health professionals cannot do much for people who have it.

Although most healthy adults can rely on their immune system to fight the infection, the lack of cure or treatment for COVID-19 is particularly worrisome for older adults and those with conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory illnesses, and hypertension.

In these contexts, the need for urgent treatment is dire. So, a group of European-based scientists have now reviewed a range of existing broad-spectrum antiviral drugs in the hope that some of them may help treat the new virus.

Denis Kainov, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, is the senior author of the new paper. The results appear in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Kainov and colleagues reviewed and summarized the information on 119 “safe-in-man” antiviral agents, called broad-spectrum antiviral agents (BSAAs).

BSAAs are compounds that target viruses “belonging to two or more viral families.”

The researchers explain in their study paper that the paradigm of one drug targeting one virus only is now transforming into a “one drug, multiple viruses” approach. This started with the advent of BSAAs.

Scientists developed BSAAs based on the idea that different viruses use similar pathways and host factors to multiply and spread within a cell. Thus, one drug could potentially target several different viruses at once.

Kainov and team also explain the advantages of repurposing existing drugs versus creating new ones in the fight against viral infections.

The “chemical synthesis steps, manufacturing processes, reliable safety, and pharmacokinetic properties in [animal models] and early clinical developmental phases (phase 0, I, and IIa) are already available,” they write.

“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.”

– Denis Kainov

The authors explain that “a substantially higher probability of success to market” and “a significantly reduced cost and timeline to clinical availability” are only some of the unique opportunities provided by drug repurposing for treating COVID-19.

The researchers narrowed down the original 119 antiviral agents to a handful of potential candidates for treating and preventing infections with SARS-CoV-2.

“For example, chloroquine and remdesivir effectively inhibited 2019-nCoV virus infection in vitro,” they write.

Scientists could also repurpose the following drugs to help treat COVID-19:

  • teicoplanin
  • oritavancin
  • dalbavancin
  • monensin
  • emetine

“[T]eicoplanin, oritavancin, dalbavancin, and monensin are approved antibiotics that have been shown to inhibit corona- and other viruses in the laboratory.”

– Denis Kainov

Usually, doctors do not recommend using antibiotics to treat viruses. In this case, however, the researchers sought drugs that they could repurpose as antiviral agents.

Emetine is an antiprotozoal drug, the authors note.

“Importantly, clinical investigations into the effectiveness of lopinavir, ritonavir, and remdesivir have started recently against [SARS-CoV-2] infections,” they add.

The scientists summarized their findings in an open access database. The database contains tables, heat maps, and word clouds of the antivirals that could help treat COVID-19.

Kainov and colleagues conclude, “In the future, BSAAs will have global impact by decreasing morbidity and mortality from viral and other diseases, maximizing the number of healthy life years, improving the quality of life [for people with the virus], and decreasing the costs of patient care.”

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For information on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus, this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) page provides advice.