In a breathtaking feat, nearly a hundred scientists from across the globe worked together to study the genes of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and have published a list of drugs that can be re-purposed to treat COVID-19 . They have also mapped out the human proteins that interact with those of the virus.
The study was posted on preprint server bioRxiv on March 27, which is yet to be peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal.
The proteins of the virus must attach to the human proteins to cause the infection. The team studied 26 coronavirus genes that help in the production of these proteins. It also studied human proteins and found 332 SARS-CoV-2 and human protein interactions. The team then listed 67 human proteins that can be targeted by 69 drugs to fight the infection. These drugs include the existing FDA-approved drugs, drugs under clinical trials and/or preclinical compounds.
“When the virus invades the cells, it hijacks the cells’ molecular machinery to replicate itself because it cannot do this on its own. The drugs we have identified may be able to inhibit these molecular machines so that the virus can no longer use them for its own survival. Thus, we hope some of these drugs will be able to decrease viral load and disease severity for patients. However, they still need to be further tested,” Dr. Mehdi Bouhaddou, one of the authors, explains in an email to The Hindu . He is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco.
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The list includes unexpected candidates such as entacapone used to treat Parkinson’s disease and antiviral medication named ribavirin, which was administered to Nipah patients in Kerala during the 2018 outbreak. Chloroquine, an antimalarial drug, and metformin, used to treat diabetes, were also found on the list.
When asked about side-effects, Dr. Bouhaddou added: “The drugs/compounds we are using are relatively well studied. Many of them are already approved for other diseases. One can easily look up what adverse side-effects, if any, are expected from these drugs.”
“The next step is to test these drugs in labs we are collaborating with, in New York (Mount Sinai) and Paris (Pasteur Institute), where they have the virus growing. We will perform in vitro tests with cells in culture, followed by testing in animal models to assess how effective these drugs are at inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 fitness,” adds Dr. Bouhaddou. “Future studies are geared up to more deeply understand the exact molecular mechanisms used by the coronavirus to drive disease in humans. This could reveal additional drug targets and drugs to treat COVID-19.”