Licensed drug could reduce SARS-CoV-2 infection by 70%, study reveals

A study led by the University of Birmingham (UK), Keele University (UK) and the San Raffaele Scientific Institute (Italy) has revealed that a licensed drug normally used to treat abnormal levels of fatty substances in the blood could reduce infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus by up to 70%. The research, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, was also carried out in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) and the University of Liverpool (UK).

The research reportedly demonstrates that fenofibrate and its active form (fenofibric acid) can significantly reduce SARS-COV-2 infection in human cells in the laboratory. Importantly, reduction of infection was obtained using concentrations of the drug which are safe and achievable using the standard clinical dose of fenofibrate. Fenofibrate, which is approved for use by most countries in the world including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), is an oral drug currently used to treat conditions such as high levels of cholesterol and lipids (fatty substances) in the blood.

The team is now calling for clinical trials to test the drug in hospitalised Covid-19 patients, which will be carried out in addition to two clinical trials currently underway in research led by the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (US) and Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel).

In the study, the team tested a panel of already licensed drugs – including fenofibrate – to identify candidates that disrupt ACE2 and Spike interactions. Having identified fenofibrate as a candidate, they then tested the efficacy of the drug in reducing infection in cells in the laboratory using the original strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus isolated in 2020, finding that fenofibrate reduced infection by up to 70%. Additional unpublished data also indicates that fenofibrate is equally effective against the newer variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the Alpha and Beta variants. Research is ongoing into its efficacy in the Delta variant.

Corresponding author Dr Farhat Khanim from the University of Birmingham explained: “The development of new more infectious SARS-CoV-2 variants has resulted in a rapid expansion in infection rates and deaths in several countries around the world, especially the UK, US and Europe. While vaccine programmes will hopefully reduce infection rates and virus spread in the longer term, there is still an urgent need to expand our arsenal of drugs to treat SARS-CoV-2-positive patients.”

Co-author Dr Elisa Vicenzi of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute said: “Our data indicates that fenofibrate may have the potential to reduce the severity of Covid-19 symptoms and also virus spread. Given that fenofibrate is an oral drug which is very cheap and available worldwide, together with its extensive history of clinical use and its good safety profile, our data has global implications – especially in low-middle income countries and in those individuals for whom vaccines are not recommended or suitable such as children, those with hyper-immune disorders and those using immune-suppressants.”

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