‘Dream team’ duo of drugs may cure COVID-19 entirely

TOKYO, Japan — Even as nations around the world reach encouraging levels in their COVID-19 vaccination rollouts, new variants of the virus continue to crop up and send people to the hospital. As scientists keep looking for a way to definitively treat these infections, a new study finds a pair of drugs may form the perfect 1-2 punch to kill COVID for good.

Researchers from the Tokyo University of Science say the medications cepharanthine and nelfinavir appear to form an effective combination for treating coronavirus patients. Specifically, their study finds cepharanthine prevents COVID from entering human cells and nelfinavir keeps the virus from replicating.

Although the coronavirus vaccines have been extremely effective at curbing the pandemic, study authors note that doesn’t give them a 100 percent guarantee of working for everyone. The team from United States, United Kingdom, and Japan started a project to develop new therapeutics to stop the virus in people who do contract COVID-19.

To do this, they screened several drugs using VeroE6/TMPRSS2 cells. The team manipulated these particular cells to withstand being infected and produce more of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“To determine whether a drug of interest could help combat infection by SARS-CoV-2, we simply had to expose VeroE6/TMPRSS2 cells to both the drug and SARS-CoV-2 and then observe whether the drug’s presence served to hinder the virus’s efforts to infect cells,” explains Professor Koichi Watashi in a university release.

The new drugs work better than more common COVID treatments

Researchers experimented with a panel of drugs including many of the current approved treatments gaining notoriety during the pandemic, including remdesivir and chloroquine. Their tests reveal cepharanthine (an anti-inflammatory) and nelfinavir (a drug for HIV infection) had the best results in suppressing COVID-19.

Cepharanthine helped to inhibit SARS-CoV-2’s ability to bind to a protein on the surface of human cells. Meanwhile, nelfinavir stopped the virus from exploiting a protein that helps SARS-CoV-2 reproduce in patients.

Study authors say these two distinctly different drugs, used together, can be extremely successful in defeating COVID-19. The team’s computer models show the cepharanthine/nelfinavir combo clears SARS-CoV-2 from a patient’s lungs 4.9 days faster than current treatments.

Researchers caution that the new drug team isn’t ready for use in hospitals just yet. However, the results show that this new therapy needs further clinical testing so it can reach patients sooner rather than later.

The findings appear in the journal iScience.