Aussies discover virus-killing drug

A Monash University-led study has shown that an anti-parasitic drug, already available worldwide, kills the COVID-19 virus within 48 hours.

Dr Kylie Wagstaff, who led the study, said the scientists showed that the drug, Ivermectin, stopped the SARS-CoV-2 virus growing in cell culture within 48 hours.

“We found that even a single dose could essentially remove all viral RNA by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours there was a really significant reduction in it,” Dr Wagstaff said.

Ivermectin is an FDA-approved anti-parasitic drug that has also been shown to be effective in vitro against a broad range of viruses including HIV, dengue, influenza and Zika virus. 

Dr Wagstaff cautioned that the tests conducted in the study were in vitro and that trials needed to be carried out in people.

“Ivermectin is very widely used and seen as a safe drug. We need to figure out now whether the dosage you can use it at in humans will be effective – that’s the next step,” Dr Wagstaff said.

“In times when we’re having a global pandemic and there isn’t an approved treatment, if we had a compound that was already available around the world then that might help people sooner. Realistically it’s going to be a while before a vaccine is broadly available.”

Although the mechanism by which Ivermectin works on the virus is not known, it is likely, based on its action in other viruses, that it works to stop the virus ‘dampening down’ the host cells’ ability to clear it, Dr Wagstaff said.

Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Dr Leon Caly, a senior medical scientist at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Peter Doherty Institute of Infection and Immunity, where the experiments with live coronavirus were conducted, is the study’s first author.

“As the virologist who was part of the team who were first to isolate and share SARS-COV2 outside of China in January 2020, I am excited about the prospect of Ivermectin being used as a potential drug against COVID-19,” Dr Caly said.

Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos praised the researchers but also warned people against misusing the substance until it was fully tested.

“There is no reason to be buying lice treatment unless you’re going to be using it on your children’s hair,” Ms Mikakos said during a press conference updating Victorians on the coronavirus pandemic.

“I just want to stress that, because we’ve heard about people overseas who have heard about potential developments and then have ingested drugs that have been used in a completely inappropriate way and have died as a result.

“I don’t want to see people rushing out to their pharmacies or their supermarkets buying lice treatments now because scientists are doing this work.

“It is lethal to swallow this shampoo. We will end up with people in hospital.”

Ms Mikakos also expressed concern people might hoard the drug, leaving none for those who needed it for proven uses — something that has happened with other medicines.

How long do you think it will be before we have a fully tested cure for the coronavirus? Are you excited by this latest breakthrough?

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Written by Ben

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