Pfizer's Vizimpro Is Among 3 FDA-approved Drugs That Combat
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Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared over a year ago, researchers around the world have been searching for existing drugs that might be repurposed to fight the virus. A team is adding three candidates to the growing list of potential anti-COVID-19 candidates—medicines they believe are particularly promising because they appear to inhibit the virus in respiratory cells.

Scientists screened existing drugs in several cell types, including those that line human airways, to see whether they could inhibit SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Nine were particularly effective in respiratory cells, three of which are FDA-approved: Pfizer’s lung cancer drug Vizimpro, the antibiotic salinomycin and cyclosporine, which is used to prevent rejection in patients receiving organ transplants.

The team started with 3,059 compounds, 1,000 of which are FDA-approved drugs. They tested them for their potential to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 without causing toxicity. The scientists first screened all of them in kidney cells from monkeys and liver cells from people, and found 23 that were effective. They tested the 23 finalists in respiratory cells and found that nine were active in fighting the virus.

The researchers went on to demonstrate that cyclosporine worked against COVID in all of the cell types tested by exploiting two different mechanisms. It inhibits cyclophilins, which are enzymes the virus needs to thrive, while also tamping down the inflammatory response that can be deadly in some patients.

The potential benefits of cyclosporine in fighting COVID-19 have already led to clinical trials. Researchers there are testing the drug in hospitalized patients to see whether it can prevent the immune overreaction known as cytokine release syndrome. Researchers included two drugs in their newly reported screening study that have attracted a lot of attention during the pandemic: anti-malarial treatment hydroxychloroquine, and Gilead’s Veklury (remdesivir).