/COVID-19: Angina drug may be an effective treatment

COVID-19: Angina drug may be an effective treatment

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New research in cells shows the drug bepridil holds promise for treating COVID-19. filadendron/Getty Images
  • A recent study shows that bepridil — a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating heart angina but currently voluntarily withdrawn due to cardiac side effects — may be highly effective in treating COVID-19.
  • The researchers tested 55 different FDA-approved medications. As many as 29 of these showed promise, and six were found to reduce activity of a crucial enzyme that helps the virus replicate.
  • Bepridil was the most potent of these drugs.
  • The study authors recommend beginning preclinical investigations in animals to test the efficacy and safety of the drug.

The clock keeps ticking for the researchers trying to find ways to combat SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

It has been almost a year since the virus was declared a pandemic. In that time, more than 111 million people have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and nearly 2.5 million people have died from it.

Finding ways to reduce the spread of the virus and developing a vaccine for it is essential for reducing cases. Another component in dealing with the deadly pandemic is finding medications that can treat active infections.

A research team from Texas A&M University in College Station believes that a drug called bepridil may be effective at treating patients with COVID-19. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Over the past year, scientists have studied the role many FDA-approved drugs play in reducing COVID-19 symptoms, and only a couple of them have shown any promise.

Remdesivir, a drug used in people with Ebola, was the first drug approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19. The drug can slow replication of the virus in the body, reducing recovery time from 15 to 10 days.

Another drug with prior FDA approval for other purposes that can be helpful in treating COVID-19 is dexamethasone, a corticosteroid used to reduce inflammation in the body.

This medication is prescribed to some patients with the virus who are suffering from respiratory issues. Ever since doctors began prescribing dexamethasone to patients with COVID-19, the death rate in these patients has gone down.

While the FDA granted emergency approval for the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, they have since revoked that approval.

Additionally, the FDA warn that there are safety issues in using this drug to treat COVID-19.

Dr. Wenshe Ray Liu, a professor and the Gradipore Chair in chemistry at Texas A&M University, is one of the leads of the bepridil study.

The other study lead is Dr. Chien-Te Kent Tseng, a professor and director of the SARS/MERS/COVID-19 Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Dr. Liu and the team studied 55 drugs to find a medication with prior FDA approval that could provide an alternative to remdesivir. They found six medications that may be effective in stopping the virus from replicating, with bepridil showing the most promise.

“Our team screened more than 30 [FDA-approved] drugs for their ability to inhibit SARS-COV-2’s entry into human cells. The study found bepridil to offer the most potential for treatment of COVID-19. As a result, we are advocating for the serious consideration of using bepridil in clinical tests related to SARS-CoV-2.”

Bepridil is traditionally used to treat angina, a condition that occurs when less blood oxygen reaches an area of the heart muscle than usual.

According to the authors of the new study, bepridil “is a calcium channel blocker with significant antianginal activity.”

“Administration of a high dose of bepridil may have dual functions to slow down the virus replication in host cells by both inhibiting Mpro and raising the pH of endosomes,” the authors write.

The researchers tested their theory by injecting the virus in both African green monkey cells and human cells. Additionally, they tested the bepridil at three different concentrations. They found that the higher concentration of the medication “is effective in inhibiting SARS-CoV-2.”

“Collectively, our results indicate that bepridil is an effective medicine in preventing SARS-CoV-2 from entry and replication in mammalian cell hosts,” the authors write. “Therefore, we urge the consideration of clinical tests of bepridil in the treatment of COVID-19.”

It is important to note that bepridil is not currently available as a prescription drug in the United States. The authors note that the makers of the drug voluntarily withdrew it from being sold when some concerns of it causing heart issues came up.

However, it is still prescribed in other countries, such as Japan, France, and China.

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