Hong Kong | An antimicrobial drug used against stomach ulcers and bacterial infections has shown promise in combating the coronavirus in animal testing, scientists from Hong Kong said on Monday.
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Research has been conducted to assess whether metallodrugs – metal-containing compounds commonly used against bacteria – might have antiviral properties to help fight the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
In tests on golden hamsters, researchers found that one of the drugs in this family, ranitidine bismuth citrate (RBC), was “a potent anti-SARS-CoV-2 agent.”
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“RBC can lower the viral load in the lung of the infected hamster,” said Runming Wang, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong, during the presentation to the press on Monday of this study.
“Our discovery shows that RBC is a possible anti-viral against COVId-19,” he said.
The fact that the tests have been encouraging in animals is far from proving that this drug can also have a beneficial effect in humans.
Sars-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 disease, has killed more than a million people since it emerged in China in December.
As scientists around the world are on the vaccine race, they are also looking at readily available drugs that may ease symptoms of COVID-19 or help the body fight it.
Although dozens of treatments for COVID-19 are being evaluated around the world, only one has so far shown efficacy in terms of reducing mortality, but only in seriously ill patients: dexamethasone, a corticosteroid.
An antiviral, remdesivir, slightly reduces the recovery time of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but has not shown any benefit in terms of reducing mortality. These two treatments were prescribed to US President Donald Trump who has been contaminated with COVID-19.
Both have drawbacks, however. Remdesivir is expensive and in short supply worldwide, while dexamethasone has an immunosuppressive effect that poses a risk to patients except the sickest.
Hong Kong scientists have pointed out that RBC, which is readily available and used against stomach ulcers, has a safe and comprehensive pharmacological profile.
“It has been used for decades and is therefore quite safe,” Wang said.
The researchers added that their research, published in Nature Microbiology, suggests that other metallo-drugs may also be effective against the virus and should be the subject of further study.