Three drugs already in circulation have been found to be effective at preventing infection of human cells by the coronavirus, research published today reveals.
Experiments on lab-grown mini-lungs implanted in mice looked at which pre-existing drugs stop SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, infiltrating human cells.
It revealed drugs called imatinib, mycophenolic acid (MPA) and quinacrine dihydrochloride (QNHC) are effective at stopping the virus in its tracks.
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Experiments on lab-grown mini-lungs implanted in mice looked at which pre-existing drugs can prevent infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19. One, called imatinib, is involved in four ongoing COVID-related trials and is normally used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia and other cancers
Versatile human stem cells were used to make the miniature lungs and colons, called organoids.
‘Organoids are mini-tissues grown in the petri dish,’ Dr Shuibing Chen, co-author of the study published in Nature from Weill Cornell Medicine told MailOnline.
She adds they ‘more faithfully recapitulate the complex cell types and structure’ than other scientific models, such as monkey cell lines or human cancer cell lines.
Lungs and the colon were selected because the virus is known to thrive in these organs following infection.
Respiratory issues are almost always expressed in symptomatic infection and gastrointestinal issues are seen in approximately a quarter of patients, often the most dire cases.
QNHC (Acriquine, Atabrine, Atebrin and Mepacrine) is an approved antimalarial drug but is increasingly used as an anthelmintic, antiprotozoal, antineoplastic, and antirheumatic agent. It also prevented infection with SARS-CoV-2 in the experiment
MPA (pictured), also known as mycophenolate mofetil and CellCept, prevented coronavirus infection and is used as an immunosuppressive drug to prevent organ rejection after transplantation and for the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as Chron’s
Once the organoids were cultivated and fully developed, the researchers discovered they express the ACE2 receptor on many cells.
This protein is how the coronavirus infects people as the virus tricks the receptor into opening up and allowing the virus inside.
As a result, it has been dubbed the ‘gateway to the cell’ and much research has focused on preventing this interaction.
The next step of the research investigated how myriad drugs approved for use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) affect the organs both before and after exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
Imatinib, also known by its brand name Gleevec, was effective at inhibiting infection.
It is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) and has been used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia and other cancers since the 1990s.
Currently there are four clinical trials occurring which are investigating how effective imatinib is at treating Covid-19.
Two of the trials, in Egypt and France, have not yet started finding participants, whereas two, in the US and Spain, have begun recruitment.
MPA, also known as mycophenolate mofetil and CellCept, also prevented coronavirus infection and is used as an immunosuppressive drug to prevent organ rejection after transplantation and for the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as Chron’s.
A 2014 study investigating the 2012 MERS epidemic, which is also caused by a coronavirus, by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found ‘MPA or a combination [with other drugs]may be beneficial in the treatment of MERS-CoV.’
QNHC (Acriquine, Atabrine, Atebrin and Mepacrine) is an approved antimalarial drug which is structurally similar to the controversial anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine once touted as a Covid cure by US President Donald Trump.
The latest findings build on research from last week which saw researchers make artificial lungs (pictured) in two independent and separate studies to examine the spread of Covid-19
For MPA and QNHC there are no trials investigating if it can treat or prevent Covid-19.
‘To our knowledge, this is the first time the three drugs were identified [as potential treatments] from an unbiased screen to treat COVID patients,’ Dr Chen says.
‘We reported the pre-print version of our studies on bioRxiv back in May. Several clinical trials were launched to evaluate imatinib on COVID-19 patients.’
The findings build on research from last week which saw researchers make artificial lungs in two independent and separate studies to examine the spread of Covid-19.
The ‘living lung’ models mimic the tiny air sacs that take up the oxygen we breathe, called alveoli, which is where most serious lung damage from the virus occurs.
Having access to these organoid models to test the spread of SARS-CoV-2 could be a crucial weapon in the fight against COVID-19, the authors of both papers say.