Leprosy drug holds promise as at-home COVID treatment

The search for existing medications that could be used to treat COVID-19 continues apace, and researchers may have struck gold in one of the unlikeliest sources.

Scientists investigate the effects of existing medications because they have already passed safety approval tests, meaning they can skip various trials before attempting them on human subjects.

Researchers at Hong Kong University believe that a leprosy drug, which is listed on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines, has shown promise against the COVID-19 virus and could potentially be used as an at-home treatment for those infected.

Read more: Study shows more symptoms after COVID patients ‘recover’

According to the findings, the drug clofazimine has exhibited strong antiviral responses against SARS-CoV-2 and prevents the exaggerated inflammatory response associated with severe COVID-19.

Based on the results, the scientists believe that a phase two study evaluating clofazimine as an at-home treatment for COVID-19 could begin immediately.

“Clofazimine is an ideal candidate for a COVID-19 treatment,” study co-author Dr Sumit Chanda said. “It is safe, affordable, easy to make, taken as a pill and can be made globally available.

“People with COVID-19 would be able to simply receive a regime of low-cost pills, instead of travelling to a hospital to receive an injection.

Read more: Overcoming your fear of needles

“We hope to test clofazimine in a phase two clinical trial as soon as possible for people who test positive for COVID-19 but are not hospitalised.

“Since there is currently no outpatient treatment available for these individuals, clofazimine may help reduce the impact of the disease, which is particularly important now as we see new variants of the virus emerge and against which the current vaccines appear less efficacious.”

Clofazimine was initially identified by screening one of the world’s largest collections of known drugs for their ability to block the replication of SARS-CoV-2.

Read more: Experts call for rapid COVID tests

Dr Chanda’s team previously reported that clofazimine was one of 21 drugs effective in vitro, or in a lab dish, at concentrations that could most likely be safely achieved in patients.

In this study, the researchers tested clofazimine in hamsters – an animal model for COVID-19 – that were infected with SARS-CoV-2.

The scientists found that clofazimine lowered the amount of virus in the lungs, including when given to healthy animals prior to infection.

The drug also reduced lung damage and prevented ‘cytokine storm’, an overwhelming inflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2 that can be deadly.

“The animals that received clofazimine had less lung damage and lower viral load, especially when receiving the drug before infection,” explained co-author Dr Ren Sun.

“Besides inhibiting the virus, there are indications that the drug also regulates the host response to the virus, which provides better control of the infection and inflammation.”

The research team believes that the drug could also have the ability to fight future coronavirus pandemics as well.

“Potentially most importantly, clofazimine appears to have pan-coronavirus activity, indicating it could be an important weapon against future pandemics,” explained co-author Dr Kwok-Yung Yuen.

“Our study suggests that we should consider creating a stockpile of ready-made clofazimine that could be deployed immediately if another novel coronavirus emerges.”

How do you feel about the upcoming vaccination program? Do you think we will still need COVID treatments as the virus continues to mutate? 

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Written by Ben Hocking

Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.

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