A licensed drug normally used to treat abnormal levels of fatty substances in the blood could reduce infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus by up to 70 per cent, a new study suggests.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, has shown that fenofibrate and its active form (fenofibric acid) can significantly reduce SARS-COV-2 infection in human cells in the laboratory.
"Whilst vaccine programmes will hopefully reduce infection rates and virus spread in the longer term, there is still an urgent need to expand our arsenal of drugs to treat SARS-CoV-2-positive patients," said researcher Farhat Khanim from the University of Birmingham in the UK.
Importantly, reduction of infection was obtained using concentrations of the drug which are safe and achievable using the standard clinical dose of fenofibrate.
Fenofibrate, which is approved for use by most countries in the world including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), is an oral drug currently used to treat conditions such as high levels of cholesterol and lipids (fatty substances) in the blood.
The team is now calling for clinical trials to test the drug in hospitalised Covid-19 patients, to be carried out in addition to two clinical trials also currently underway in such patients in research being led by the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in the US and Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, infects the host through an interaction between the Spike protein on the surface of the virus and the ACE2 receptor protein on host cells.
In this study, responding to the global Covid-19 pandemic, the team tested a panel of already licensed drugs -- including fenofibrate -- to identify candidates that disrupt ACE2 and Spike interactions.
Having identified fenofibrate as a candidate, they then tested the efficacy of the drug in reducing infection in cells in the laboratory using the original strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus isolated in 2020. They found fenofibrate reduced infection by up to 70 per cent.
Additional unpublished data also indicates that fenofibrate is equally effective against the newer variants of SARS-CoV-2 including the alpha and beta variants and research is ongoing into its efficacy in the delta variant.