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Hebrew University researcher claims existing drug can 'downgrade' COVID threat to common cold level

"If our findings are borne out by clinical studies, this course of treatment could potentially downgrade COVID-19's severity into nothing worse than a common cold," Nahmias was quoted as saying in a press release issued by the HU. The two researchers focussed on the ways in which SARS-CoV-2 changes patients' lungs in order to reproduce itself.

PTI | Jerusalem | Updated: 15-07-2020 17:07 IST | Created: 15-07-2020 03:53 IST
Hebrew University researcher claims existing drug can 'downgrade' COVID threat to common cold level

A widely used anti-cholesterol drug, fenofibrate, can "downgrade" the danger-level of coronavirus to that of a common cold, a Hebrew University (HU) academic has claimed after testing it on infected human tissue. Professor Yaakov Nahmias, director of HU's Grass Center for Bioengineering, in a joint research with Benjamin tenOever at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center, found that the novel coronavirus is so vicious because it causes lipids to be deposited in the lungs and that fenofibrate can undo the damage. "If our findings are borne out by clinical studies, this course of treatment could potentially downgrade COVID-19's severity into nothing worse than a common cold," Nahmias was quoted as saying in a press release issued by the HU.

The two researchers focussed on the ways in which SARS-CoV-2 changes patients' lungs in order to reproduce itself. They discovered that the virus prevents the routine burning of carbohydrates. As a result, large amounts of fat accumulate inside lung cells, a condition the virus needs in order to reproduce. "This new understanding of SARS CoV-2 may help explain why patients with high blood sugar and cholesterol levels are often at a particularly high risk to develop COVID-19," they noted.

"Viruses are parasites that lack the ability to replicate on their own, so they take control of our cells to help accomplish that task. By understanding how SARS-CoV-2 controls our metabolism, we can wrestle back control from the virus and deprive it from the very resources it needs to survive," Nahmias explained. Having drawn this conclusion, the two researchers began to screen FDA-approved medications that interfere with the virus' ability to reproduce. In their lab studies, the cholesterol-lowering drug fenofibrate, sold under the brand name Tricor, showed extremely promising results.

By allowing lung cells to burn more fat, fenofibrate breaks the virus' grip on these cells and prevents SARS CoV-2's ability to reproduce. In fact, within only five days of treatment, the virus almost completely disappeared, the researchers claim. "With second-wave infections spiking in countries across the globe, these findings could not come at a better time," Nahmias was quoted as saying, adding that "global cooperation may provide the cure".

"The collaboration between the Nahmias and tenOever labs demonstrates the power of adopting a multi-disciplinary approach to study SARS-CoV-2 and that our findings could truly make a significant difference in reducing the global burden of COVID-19," tenOever added. While there are many international efforts currently underway to develop a coronavirus vaccine, studies suggest that vaccines may only protect patients for a few months, the university's press release said.

Therefore, blocking the virus' ability to function, rather than neutralising its ability to strike in the first place, may be the key to turning the tables on COVID-19, it added. The findings of the research will appear in this week's Cell Press' Sneak Peak.


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