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Researchers Identify 69 Drugs That Could Help Fight Coronavirus

Data about the Ebola virus is displayed at a lab that will be used to test for treatments against the coronavirus at U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command at Fort Detrick, Md., Thursday, March 19, 2020.

A team of international researchers has identified 69 drugs and compounds that could be effective in treating coronavirus, as scientists race to discover new ways to fight the pandemic.

The researchers say more than a third of the drugs are already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are currently used to treat a range of unrelated conditions, including diabetes, cancer and hypertension. They say studying such known drugs may be a faster method to find treatments for the coronavirus than to try to create a new antiviral drug from scratch.

The study, co-authored by nearly 100 researchers, has been published on a website for preprinted biology studies called bioRxiv. The researchers say they have submitted their study to a journal for publication.

To create the list of potential drugs, the scientists studied the genes of the coronavirus and looked specifically at how the virus infects human cells. They found that the virus must latch onto human proteins in order to replicate, and they identified 332 human proteins that the virus targets.

The scientists then looked for drugs and other compounds that also latch onto those same human proteins. The idea is that if the medicines attach to the human proteins, they could prevent the virus from attaching to those same proteins and thereby stop the virus from entering human cells and replicating.

The list of potential drugs that could perform this task is diverse, according to the researchers. The drugs include metformin, which is taken by people with Type 2 diabetes, the schizophrenia drug haloperidol, and chloroquine, an antimalarial drug that has already made headlines for its potential to treat the coronavirus.

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump called chloroquine a “game changer” in the fight against COVID-19. However, Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned that evidence of chloroquine helping to treat the coronavirus is only “anecdotal” and said that clinical trials are needed to determine its efficacy. New York state, which is hard-hit by coronavirus cases, says it will begin trials of the drug Tuesday.

The fact that the drug’s side effects are already known in the context of malaria is one of the reasons why repurposing it is appealing.

“The nice part,” Trump said last week of chloroquine, is that “it’s been around for a long time, so we know that if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody.”

Other FDA-approved drugs on the list of potential treatments in the latest study include antibiotics, anticoagulants, medicines to prevent against organ rejection and treatments for inflammation.

There are currently no proven drug treatments or vaccines against the coronavirus, however scientists across the world have begun research to develop both. Researchers have begun tests on several repurposed drugs in the hopes that they could be helpful against COVID-19, including drugs developed for Ebola, HIV and malaria.

U.S. health officials have estimated that it will take 12 to 18 months before a coronavirus vaccine could be made available to the general population. In the meantime, researchers are trying to develop treatments that could lessen the severity of symptoms or slow down the spread of the disease.