Scientists continue to research existing drugs to treat Covid-19 - now, an antiviral treatment

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  • A potential antiviral drug may help with current and future pandemics
  • This drug can potentially combat Covid-19, respiratory viruses and influenza
  • A holistic approach is needed to fight human and animal viruses 

Scientists from the University of Nottingham have discovered antiviral properties in an existing drug that could help with future epidemics or pandemics like Covid-19.

A study published in Viruses shows that thapsigargin, an inhibitor of a certain class of enzymes, is a promising broad-spectrum antiviral, which also appears to be highly effective against Covid-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the influenza A virus.

Showing promise

The researchers took into account the clinical differences between viruses that cause acute respiratory virus infections – and established the need for a comprehensive drug that can target different virus types at the same time, thereby significantly improving clinical management.

The scientists say that an antiviral of this type could potentially be made available for community use to control active infection and spread. They also found that thapsigargin in small doses triggers an effective antiviral innate immune response against three major types of human respiratory viruses, including Covid-19.

"Whilst we are still at the early stages of research into this antiviral and its impact on how viruses such as Covid-19 can be treated, these findings are hugely significant,” says project leader Prof Kin-Chow Chang in a press statement.

"The current pandemic highlights the need for effective antivirals to treat active infections, as well as vaccines, to prevent the infection. Given that future pandemics are likely to be of animal origin, where animal to human (zoonotic) and reverse zoonotic (human to animal) spread take place, a new generation of antivirals, such as thapsigargin, could play a key role in the control and treatment of important viral infections in both humans and animals," Chang explains.

Key features 

The research says that thapsigargin a promising antiviral as it is effective in preventing and fighting viral infection. It is not sensitive to virus resistance. The findings show that it is just as effective at blocking combined infection with coronavirus and influenza in a single-virus infection.

It can be taken as a pill and there is no need for injection or hospitalisation. It is also a tried and tested drug, minimising safety concerns.

Chang adds that more research needs to be done to ensure there is a holistic approach to human and animal viruses.

"Although more testing is clearly needed, current findings strongly indicate that thapsigargin and its derivatives are promising antiviral treatments against Covid-19 and influenza virus, and have the potential to defend us against the next Disease X pandemic," Chang says.

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