Israeli team finds 1970s drug may reduce Covid-19 to common cold

Fenofibrate, first approved in the 1970s, has shown “extremely promising” results against coronavirus.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

A new-old drug could reduce Covid-19 to nothing more than a common cold.

A research team at Hebrew University of Jerusalem says early research looks promising for cholesterol-lowering drug Fenofibrate, first used in the mid-1970s, as an effective treatment against coronavirus.

The group, led by Hebrew University Professor Yaakov Nahmias, published its early findings in this week’s Cell Press’ Sneak Peak.

Viruses are parasites that can’t replicate on their own. So they take control of human cells to do so. Coronavirus needs fat to reproduce. By preventing the routine burning of carbohydrates, Covid-19 leads to cell fat building up in the lungs, a great situation for the fat-hungry virus.

Nahmias and Dr. Benjamin tenOever at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center discovered this following three months of research. Their new understanding may help explain why patients with high blood sugar and cholesterol levels are often at a particularly high risk to develop COVID-19.

Nahmias’ Lab at Hebrew University’s Grass Center for Bioengineering.

Nahmias’ Lab at Hebrew University’s Grass Center for Bioengineering (Courtesy Daniel Hanoch)

“By understanding how the SARS-CoV-2 controls our metabolism, we can wrestle back control from the virus and deprive it from the very resources it needs to survive,” Nahmias said.

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Armed with this new information in hand, Nahmias and tenOever began to screen FDA-approved medications that interfere with the virus’ ability to reproduce.

Gone in 5 days

In lab studies, the cholesterol-lowering drug Fenofibrate allowed lung cells to burn more fat. By doing so, it broke the virus’ grip on these cells and blocked the coronavirus’ ability to reproduce. In fact, within only five days of treatment, the virus almost completely disappeared.

“With second-wave infections spiking in countries across the globe, these findings couldn’t come at a better time,” said Nahmias.

“[O]ur findings could truly make a significant different in reducing the global burden of Covid-19,” tenOever added.

While there are many international efforts currently underway to develop a coronavirus vaccine, studies suggest that vaccines may only protect patients for a few months. Therefore, blocking the virus’ ability to function, rather than neutralizing its ability to strike in the first place, may be the key to turning the tables on Covid-19.

“If our findings are borne out by clinical studies, this course of treatment could potentially downgrade Covid-19’s severity into nothing worse than a common cold,” Nahmias said.