COVID-19 therapies could come from existing drugs

By Will Morton, The Science Advisory Board contributing writer

June 4, 2021 -- At least four drugs that have already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be effective as COVID-19 therapies, according to a study published on June 3 in Nature Communications by researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA.

Scripps researchers screened thousands of drugs and identified a total of 90 compounds that prevented the SARS-CoV-2 virus from replicating in laboratory-cultured infected human cells.

They focused on drugs in the ReFRAME drug repurposing library, which was established by Calibr, the drug discovery division of Scripps Research. The library was set up in 2018 with the goal of identifying areas of urgent unmet medical need, such as in neglected tropical diseases. The ReFRAME library contains drugs that have been approved by the FDA, or experimental compounds that have already been tested for safety in humans.

Of the 90 compounds the researchers tested, 13 had the highest potential to be repurposed as COVID-19 therapies, based on their potency, pharmacokinetic properties, human safety profiles, cell line-independent activity, or a likely mechanism of action, the authors found.

Four of the drugs -- halofantrine, nelfinavir, simeprevir, and manidipine -- are already FDA approved, while nine others are in various stages of the drug development process.

Next steps involve determining if any of the drugs are safe and effective as COVID-19 therapies, the researchers stated.

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