Researchers have identified an antiviral drug which is highly effective against the COVID-19 causing coronavirus, and could have major implications in how future disease outbreaks are managed.
The team, including researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK, found that the plant-derived antiviral, at small doses, triggers a highly effective broad-spectrum host-centred antiviral innate immune response against three major types of human respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.
Given that acute respiratory virus infections caused by different viruses are clinically indistinguishable, an effective broad-spectrum that can target different virus types at the same time could significantly improve clinical management, the researchers said.
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According to the study, published in the journal Viruses, an antiviral of this type could potentially be made available for community use to control active infection and its spread.
The key features based on cell and animal studies, which make thapsigargin a promising antiviral are that it is effective against viral infection when used before or during active infection, the researchers said.
The drug is also able to prevent a virus from making new copies of itself in cells for at least 48 hours after a single 30-minute exposure, they said.
The researchers noted that thapsigargin is stable in acidic pH, as found in the stomach, and therefore can be taken orally.
They said the drug could, therefore, be administered without the need for injections or hospital admission.
It is not sensitive to virus resistance, and is at least several hundred-fold more effective than current antiviral options, according to the study.
"Whilst we are still at the early stages of research into this antiviral and its impact on how viruses such as COVID-19 can be treated, these findings are hugely significant," said Professor Kin-Chow Chang from the University of Nottingham.
"Given that future pandemics are likely to be of animal origin, where animal to human (zoonotic) and reverse zoonotic (human to animal) spread take place, a new generation of antivirals, such as thapsigargin, could play a key role in the control and treatment of important viral infections in both humans and animals," Chang added.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.