Seongnam, Korea—In an effort to find a drug that can be used immediately to treat COVID-19, researchers around the world are focusing on drug repositioning.

The Institut Pasteur Korea recently screened a panel of 48 drugs approved by the FDA for use against SARS-CoV-2, according to a recent report.

The study, published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology, points out that the focus on drugs with FDA approval for other uses would greatly reduce the time needed to get an okay for use against COVID-19.

While the research is very preliminary, information on which drugs are being investigated can be valuable for pharmacists, who have witnessed almost-overnight shortages of drugs mentioned as possibilities for COVID-19 treatment.

The investigators tested the drugs in Vero cells, a cell line developed from kidney cells of the African green monkey, which are commonly used to grow viruses for vaccine production.

An antihelminthic drug, niclosamide, showed “very potent” antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2, according to the authors, who add, “Not surprisingly, its broad-spectrum antiviral effect has been well documented in the literature, including antiviral properties against SARS- and MERS-CoV.”

Niclosamide, sold under the brand name Niclocide, among others, is an oral medication used to treat tapeworm infestations, including diphyllobothriasis, hymenolepiasis, and taeniasis. Researchers report that a downside of the drug is low absorption, which keeps it from effectively reaching the target tissue, adding, “Further development or drug formulation could enable an effective delivery of this drug to the target tissue.”

Another drug, ciclesonide, also demonstrated some promise, according to the study. That oral inhalation product is marketed under the brand names Alvesco for asthma and Omnaris, Omniair, Zetonna, and Alvesco for hay fever in the U.S. and Canada. Despite substantially lower antiviral potency, according to the study, the medication also showed promise against SARS-CoV-2.

The authors point out that a study earlier this year demonstrated antiviral activity from the drug in three patients infected by SARS-CoV-2.

“With its proven anti-inflammatory activity, ciclesonide may represent as a potent drug which can manifest [the] dual roles [of antiviral and anti-inflammatory] for the control of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the authors write. Anti-inflammatory activity could be used to control cytokine storms, an immune inflammatory overreaction that can kill COVID-19 patients, they add.

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