MÜNSTER, Germany — It’s not uncommon for medical science to repurpose a drug for use against another, completely different illness. However, a new report finds more protection against COVID-19 may be available from two unlikely places. Among those, researchers in Germany say a drug used for decades to treat toenail infections may help fight the coronavirus.
Researchers from the University of Muenster say the antifungal drug itraconazole (or Snoporax) killed the deadly bug in experiments. The antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) had the same effect, but worked best in conjunction with the more common coronavirus treatment remdesivir.
The discovery offers hope of a “COVID cocktail,” according to the German and Finnish scientists involved in the study. They now hope to start human trials to prove these drugs are effective.
In experiments with lab-grown cells, both treatments blocked SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID. The combined therapy also blocked production of the virus by more than 90 percent.
COVID research continues even with vaccines available
Health officials continue to argue that vaccines alone will not end the pandemic. With that in mind, scientists are still looking for therapies that prevent mild cases from becoming more serious.
“Preventive vaccination and therapeutic medicines against COVID-19 are both required to effectively combat pandemics caused by emerging zoonotic viruses such as SARS-CoV-2,” senior author Professor Ursula Rescher says in a media release.
Snoporax and Prozac are common drugs doctors have been prescribing to patients across the world for around 30 years.
“A straightforward approach to speed up drug development at lower costs is drug repurposing,” researchers write in the British Journal of Pharmacology. “We tested the antiviral potential of the antifungal itraconazole and the antidepressant fluoxetine on the production of infectious SARS‐CoV‐2 particles”
The team adds they also, “evaluated the added benefit of a combinatory use of these host‐directed drugs with the direct acting antiviral remdesivir.”
Researchers report the results on lab cells were “well‐tolerated and potently impaired viral replication.”
Repurposing proven drugs still comes with risks
Study authors say using more than one drug can target different molecular pathways of COVID-19. It’s a key strategy in achieving therapeutic success with lower doses of medications. It also reduces the likelihood of the development of drug resistance. Both drugs are clinically licensed and do not induce significant harm to living cells over the whole concentration range.
“The combination treatments were also well tolerated and no cytotoxic effects were seen when cells were simultaneously treated with the drug pairs, thus excluding synergistic toxicity,” the researchers write.
The team cautions, however, that thorough safety tests will be essential before testing these unconventional COVID drugs on humans.
“The translation of in vitro results into the clinics remains a major challenge,” the team continues. “Combined medications bear the risk of drug–drug interactions which may lead to reduced therapeutic benefit or even severe adverse effects. Therefore, it is important to mention that a vast number of drugs are currently known to interact with itraconazole, fluoxetine and even remdesivir.”
“Furthermore, the patient’s genetic disposition and physiological or pathophysiological conditions demand for a careful evaluation of the appropriate treatment strategy,” the report concludes. “Thus, it is paramount to evaluate the patient‐related risks and benefits, as co-administration of drugs might be contraindicated in certain patients. Our analysis on the antiviral activity of combinatory drug combinations via commonly used interaction models argues for an enhanced efficacy that is based on synergistic drug interaction and suggests promising novel options for SARS‐CoV‐2 treatment.”
SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.