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A new study investigates a range of drugs for their potential to treat COVID-19. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
  • Despite the availability of multiple vaccines that protect against COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 infections are increasing in many parts of the world.
  • Researchers continue to investigate ways to reduce both the spread of the virus and the severity of symptoms following infection.
  • A research team from the University of Manchester (UoM) in the United Kingdom identified multiple drugs they think could help treat people with COVID-19.
  • The drugs they studied already have approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat other medical issues, so using them to treat COVID-19 symptoms would be considered off-label use.
  • The researchers conducted the study using cultured cells, so scientists will need to carry out much more research before the drugs reach the clinic.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in many parts of the world. Notably, the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus is causing widespread concern.

While multiple COVID-19 vaccines are available, there is still a struggle to get all eligible people vaccinated. As researchers continue looking for ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19, new research from UoM in the U.K. might offer new avenues to explore.

The new paper, which appears in PLOS Pathogens, suggests several drugs that already have approval from the FDA have the potential to reduce the risk of severe COVID-19.

For more advice on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit our coronavirus hub.

According to the most recent data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 40.4 million people in the United States have contracted a SARS-CoV-2 infection since the pandemic began. Additionally, over 650,000 individuals in the country have died from COVID-19.

Globally, there have been more than 222.6 million cases and over 4.5 million deaths from the disease.

Scientists have developed and released multiple vaccines that protect against developing severe COVID-19.

Additionally, researchers are researching non-vaccine-related methods to reduce both the spread and severity of the illness.

For example, Medical News Today recently covered monoclonal antibody treatment that appears to reduce the risk of hospitalization in high-risk people with COVID-19.

Scientists have not stopped looking for ways to reduce the impact COVID-19 has on the world.

“The different stages of COVID-19, from the initial infection of host cells through to virus replication and the response of the immune system, offer opportunities to identify drugs, treatments, and therapies to help stop disease progression,” study author Dr. Karl Kadler told MNT in an interview.

Dr. Kadler is the Research Domain Director in Cellular and Development Systems at UoM.

Dr. Kadler and other researchers from UoM studied many FDA-approved drugs to see whether any could reduce SARS-CoV-2 replication in human cells.

The researchers used the 1971 FDA compound library to find drugs that might help combat the virus.

According to the paper, the researchers “identified 223 compounds that suppressed SARS-CoV-2 replication by greater than 85% while maintaining cell viability.”

After reviewing these compounds, the scientists eventually reduced them and identified nine drugs that they believed could be effective. Two of the drugs are currently approved to treat hypertension, while another is the supplement vitamin D3.

“Large proportions of the world’s population remain at risk of contracting COVID-19 as they wait to be vaccinated. So the identification of safe and easily distributed medications that can target the different stages of virus infection and replication could reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and reduce the cases of COVID-19,” Kadler told MNT.

Dr. Chris Coleman, an Assistant Professor of Infection Immunology at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., spoke with MNT on the potential of the new research.

“The fundamental philosophy behind this is that as these drugs are already approved, we know their toxicity profiles […] and we know that they can be delivered to people to treat a disease,” said Dr. Coleman. “The next step will be to show that any one of these drugs can be used to treat SARS-CoV-2 at a nontoxic dose in animals, humans, [or both].”

It is important to note that while these drugs show promise in research, researchers conducted these studies using only cultured cells.

When lead author Dr. Kadler spoke with MNT, he advised against using these drugs to replace the vaccine or other treatments.

“The drugs we have identified are not alternatives to existing treatments or vaccination programs. We have tested these drugs only in cells in culture and not in living animals or humans,” Dr. Kadler said.