Cholesterol drug cuts coronavirus infection by 70%, researchers find

A drug meant to treat cholesterol was found to reduce coronavirus infection by 70% in lab studies, with researchers calling for additional clinical trials among hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

A team of researchers from the U.K. and Italy published findings in the Frontiers in Pharmacology journal Friday, finding that fenofibrate and fenofibric acid resulted in a significant reduction in coronavirus infection in human cells when the drug was used in safe and approved concentrations, according to a news release posted Friday.

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"Our data indicates that fenofibrate may have the potential to reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and also virus spread," Dr. Elisa Vicenzi of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan and co-author, said in the release. "Given that fenofibrate is an oral drug which is very cheap and available worldwide, together with its extensive history of clinical use and its good safety profile, our data has global implications."

The team called for added clinical trials to explore use of the drug as a potential COVID-19 therapy, while noting studies are ongoing at the University of Pennsylvania and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr. Farhat Khanim of the University of Birmingham and corresponding study author, cited viral variants spurring rising infection rates and deaths in countries around the world.

"Whilst vaccine programmes will hopefully reduce infection rates and virus spread in the longer term, there is still an urgent need to expand our arsenal of drugs to treat SARS-CoV-2-positive patients," Khanim wrote.

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Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. (Photo by: IMAGE POINT FR/NIH/NIAID/BSIP/Universal I

Another author noted that significant proportions of populations in most low-and-middle countries will likely go unvaccinated until 2022.

"Whilst vaccination has been shown to reduce infection rates and severity of disease, we are as yet unsure of the strength and duration of the response. Therapies are still urgently needed to manage COVID-19 patients who develop symptoms or require hospitalisation," Dr Alan Richardson, of Keele University in the UK, wrote in part.

The drug was suggested to work by inhibiting the harmful overproduction of cytokines tied to coronavirus infection, and also treat airway inflammation. Additional properties could prevent blood clotting seen in late-stage disease in many COVID-19 patients, study authors noted.

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