A study by researchers at the Scripps Research Institute looking into potential COVID-19 medications has revealed a surprising lead candidate: a drug currently used to treat tapeworm infections. The compound was shown to not only dampen inflammation but block the proliferation of SARS-CoV-2, making it a promising potential therapeutic to treat severe cases of COVID-19.
Tapeworms are flat, segmented parasites that live in the intestines of animals. These worms can be transmitted to humans by eating undercooked meat but are easily treated with a class of small molecules called salicylanilides.
Interestingly, salicylanilides have also been known to have potent antiviral effects, which led researchers to hypothesize that they may repurpose them to treat COVID-19. The problem, however, is that salicylanilides are typically restricted to treating gut-related infections, and, to make matters worse, high doses of the drugs are known to be toxic.
To overcome these barriers, a team of scientists led by Kim Janda screened a panel of 60 modified salicylanilide molecules in rodents before identifying one compound with a low toxicity profile that was readily absorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive tract.
Janda and colleagues found two critical features of this compound that make it an attractive option for treating COVID-19—it disrupts the mechanism by which the coronavirus deposits its genetic material into human cells, and it calms inflammation by reducing levels of an inflammatory cytokine called interleukin-6.
“The combination of anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity, cytokine inhibitory activity, and a previously established favorable pharmacokinetic profile for the lead salicylanilide render salicylanilides in general as promising therapeutics for COVID-19,” wrote the authors.
Source: ACS Infectious Diseases.