Repurposing existing drugs for COVID-19 a more rapid alternative to a vaccine, say researchers


12-05-2020
Coronavirus  Credit: PIRO4D

Repurposing existing medicines focused on known drug targets is likely to offer a more rapid hope of tackling COVID-19 than developing and manufacturing a vaccine, argue an international team of scientists in the 'British Journal of Pharmacology'.

Since the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in late 2019, more than 3.5 million people are known to have been infected, leading to over 240,000 deaths worldwide from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The race is on to find new drugs to treat COVID-19 patients and to develop a vaccine to prevent infection in the first place.

A team of researchers representing the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology today say there will be no ‘magic bullet’ to treat the disease and argue that a multi-pronged approach is needed to find new drugs. They caution that an effective and scalable vaccine is likely to take over a year before it can used to tackle the global pandemic.

When a virus enters our body, unless we have already developed immunity from previous infection or vaccination, it will break into our cells, hijacking their machinery and using it to replicate and spread throughout the body. Often, the symptoms we see are a result of our immune system fighting back in an attempt to clear the infection. In severe cases, this immune response can become overactive, potentially leading to a so-called cytokine storm, causing collateral damage to organs along the way.

“Any drug to treat COVID-19 will need to focus on the three key stages of infection: preventing the virus entering our cells in the first place, stopping it replicating if it gets inside the cells, and reducing the damage that occurs to our tissues, in this case, the lungs and heart,” said Professor Anthony Davenport from the University of Cambridge, one of the authors of the review.

The review looks at potential therapeutic drug targets – the chinks in the virus’s own armour or weak spots in the body’s defences. Two key targets appear to be proteins on the surface of our cells, to which SARS-CoV-2 binds allowing it entry – ACE2 and TMPRSS2. TMPRSS2 appears to be very common on cells, whereas ACE2 is usually present at low levels that increase depending on sex, age, and smoking history.

“As we know these two proteins play a role in this coronavirus infection, we can focus on repurposing drugs that already have regulatory approval or are in the late stages of clinical trials,” said Professor Davenport. “These treatments will have already been shown to be safe and so, if they can now be shown to be effective in COVID-19, they could be brought to clinical use relatively quickly.”

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Image: Coronavirus

Credit: PIRO4D

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

 

The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)