- A group of Israeli researchers have studied close to 3,000 approved drugs to see if any could be repurposed to treat COVID-19.
- They identified 18 that showed encouraging results in laboratory studies, in many cases completely protecting human cells despite infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Three drugs have been singled out for further study.
- The scientists cautioned against relying on any one tool against the virus, such as a vaccine, pointing out that it puts us in a precarious position if that one solution should fail.
A group of Israeli researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have identified a group of 18 existing drugs shown to be effective against COVID-19 in laboratory studies. They are hopeful that, with further testing, existing drugs may provide valuable treatment options or potentially even a cure for those infected with the virus.1
Choosing to study previously approved drugs in order to streamline future regulatory steps (all of the study drugs have already been evaluated and approved for safety and toxicity issues), the researchers combed through more than 2,800 drugs already approved for use in a variety of disorders and selected 18 they believed held promise for use as a therapy to help combat the effects of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. To evaluate the efficacy of the drugs, the researchers, led by Shy Arkin, PhD, a professor of biochemistry at the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Science, combined human cells, SARS-CoV-2 cells and the test drugs in a laboratory setting.
Encouraging Data From Laboratory Studies
According to Dr. Arkin, several of the study drugs “exhibited remarkable potency against the whole virus in in vitro experiments.”2 After two days, results “showed that the drugs can protect cells from onslaught by the virus with close to 100 percent effectiveness, meaning that almost 100 percent of the cells lived despite being infected by the virus.”3 “By contrast,” he added, “in normal circumstances, around half the cells would have died after two days following contact with the virus.”
For their studies, Dr. Arkin and his team looked at antiviral medications that “exploit a weak link in many viruses—proteins called ion channels [,which] allow the virus to regulate the acidity and salinity of its internal and external environment. Blocking those channels makes it difficult for infections to spread.”4 They focused primarily on the 3a protein and the E (envelope) protein, which is “the most conserved of all virus proteins.” As clarified by Dr. Arkin for The Jerusalem Post, “while the spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 (the 2003 coronavirus) are only about 75% identical, their E proteins are roughly 95% alike. This means the drugs would likely remain effective even when the virus mutates.”5
Ultimately the research is focusing on three drugs that tested well: Darapladib, which is used to treat atherosclerosis, a buildup of arterial plaques that can block blood flow; Flumanitib, which is used to treat blood cancer; and an HIV medication.6 Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which target the spike protein, the envelope protein and the 3a protein targeted by these drugs are expected to stay the same regardless of viral mutation. For that reason, the drugs would be expected to remain active against variants of the virus.
The scientists are seeking a pharmaceutical partnership to help carry out further vitro and in vivo studies.
We Need More Than One Tool Against COVID-19
Arguing the importance of finding effective therapies against COVID-19, Dr. Arkin said:
The general feeling in Israel and around the world is that if there are vaccines, there is no reason to continue working on [treatments for] the virus because we have found a solution. Unfortunately, if we rely on one solution, the vaccine, we may find ourselves in a situation where a new variant [resists the vaccine]. We’re not there yet, but the variants around the world are a warning light.7
He also argued the importance of finding more than one weapon against COVID-19, saying, “We should never be in a situation where in our arsenal we only have one firearm. If we only have one and we rely solely on it, and then there comes a time that it fails, we will be in a very precarious situation.”8
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Click here to view References:
1 Jaffe-Hoffman M. Israeli lab: Some Existing Drugs Could Stop COVID At Almost 100%. The Jerusalem Post July 21, 2021.
2 Israeli Researchers Find Promising Drugs for COVID Hope for Israel 2021.
3 Israeli Scientists Repurpose Three Drugs To Fight COVID Daily News July 21, 2021.
4 Leichman AK. Several Existing Drugs May Treat Covid Effectively ISRAEL21c July 20, 2021.
5 Jaffe-Hoffman M. Israeli lab: Some Existing Drugs Could Stop COVID At Almost 100%. The Jerusalem Post July 21, 2021.
6 Norman K. Israeli Researchers Say Three Existing Drugs Could Stop COVID in its Tracks Bridges for Peace July 21, 2021.
7 Leichman AK. Several Existing Drugs May Treat Covid Effectively ISRAEL21c July 20, 2021.
8 Jaffe-Hoffman M. Israeli lab: Some Existing Drugs Could Stop COVID At Almost 100%. The Jerusalem Post July 21, 2021.