Scientists at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in the United States went through one of the world's largest libraries of drugs to find out which existing drugs can be effective in stopping the SARS-CoV-2 virus from replicating in the body. SARS-CoV-2 is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The findings of the research were published in the scientific journal Nature on 24 July 2020.

With the development of an effective vaccine to combat the new coronavirus infection at least a few months away (of course there's no guarantee that we will be able to develop a successful vaccine), and development of a dedicated antiviral drug against the global pandemic-causing COVID-19 infection even farther away, the scientific community has been trying to find existing drugs that can be an efficient treatment strategy against this viral infection.

Read more: List of drugs which are being repurposed for the treatment of COVID-19

The study included analysing the largest collection of known drugs and found about 100 molecules that produced antiviral activity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Out of them, about 21 drugs have been proven to be effective with doses or concentrations that can be easily and safely given to patients.

Four of the compounds have also been found to be effective when administered along with remdesivir—which was originally developed for Ebola but is not used to treat it.

Read more: All you wanted to know about remdesivir

  1. 21 drugs chosen out of more than 12,000

The team of scientists from around the world conducted exhaustive research that included finding synergy with remdesivir, testing the drugs on lung tissues obtained from biopsies of COVID-19 patients, as well as evaluating the dosage needed to produce antiviral activity.

Read more: ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine is safe and induces a strong immune response: early findings

The 21 drugs that were deemed effective in blocking the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus included 13 drugs that have already been under clinical trials and have been found to be effective against COVID-19, and can be administered in safe doses to patients. Out of them, two are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States, namely astemizole and clofazimine. Astemizole is a drug used in case of allergies drug while clofazimine is a drug used in the treatment of leprosy.

Remdesivir has already received emergency approval for the treatment of hospitalised COVID-19 patients, while four other drugs were found to be effective when administered along with remdesivir. One of them is a derivative of chloroquine named hanfangchin A (tetrandrin), which is used in the treatment of malaria. It must be noted that hydroxychloroquine, another anti-malarial drug, has also been okayed to be used in the treatment of COVID-19, but there is some disagreement within the scientific community about its efficacy.

The experiments were conducted on smaller animals or lung organoids that are similar in nature to human tissues, and a successful trial would prompt the team of researchers to seek the FDA's approval for clinical trials. Other drugs that have also produced favourable results include apilimod and ONO 5334, making these four drugs the "best near-term options for an effective COVID-19 treatment", according to lead scientist Sumit Chanda.

More than 12,000 drugs from a collection of drugs that can be repurposed for use in the treatment of diseases were used to narrow down the field of study, making it the most comprehensive collection of compounds that have already been approved by the FDA.

Medicines / Products that contain 21 drugs that could treat COVID-19 identified: study

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