FDA-approved gout medicine could also battle COVID-19

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Probenecid is already approved by the FDA and has strong antiviral properties against SARS-CoV-2

As COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket There are few options in the United States and around the world for treating patients infected with SARS-CoV-2.

However, new research from the University of Georgia offers hope for a viable therapeutic agent to fight the disease that has claimed more than 4 million lives worldwide.

The study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports found that probenecid possessed broad antiviral properties, making it a prime candidate for fighting not only SARS-CoV-2 infection but other common and deadly respiratory viruses such as RSV and flu.

Probenecid is an FDA-approved drug that is primarily used to treat gout and is already widely used in the United States. The drug has been on the market for over 40 years and has minimal side effects.

Ralph Tripp, GRA Eminent Scholar of Vaccine and Therapeutic Studies, speaks to a colleague. (Photo by Peter Frey / UGA)

“There’s really nothing to safely fight these viruses,” said Ralph Tripp, lead study author and GRA Eminent Scholar of Vaccine and Therapeutic Studies at the UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “This antiviral works for all of the RNA respiratory viruses we’ve tested, including SARS-CoV-2. RSV, coronavirus, and flu all circulate in the same season. The bottom line is that you can potentially reduce infection and disease with this oral drug. “

Blocking of viral reproduction

Viruses work by co-opting a person’s own cells to replicate and produce more of the virus. Probenecid blocks this replication process and prevents the virus from infecting the individual’s cells.

In clinical development at the pharmaceutical company TrippBio, Tripp showed that the drug works as a prophylaxis before virus exposure and as a post-exposure treatment in animal models against SARS-CoV-2 and influenza. The drug has also been shown to be effective in controlling RSV in vitro, and in vivo studies are ongoing.

Although the drug is primarily used after a person is positive for the virus, the prophylactic results mean that even people with known exposure may take the drug to prevent disease.

COVID-19 treatment options limited

The current go-to treatments for seriously ill COVID-19 patients, remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies, can only be administered through an IV. And when a COVID patient needs them, it’s often too late.

“These treatments have shown some effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2, but they are very expensive and very difficult to come by,” said Tripp. “In reality, there are only a handful of options that can actually be used due to the cost, limited IV use and lack of access. It’s not very useful to the world. “

On the other hand, probenecid is widespread. Family doctors could prescribe a pill for patients and collect it from their local pharmacy.

SARS-CoV-2, RSV and influenza have a huge impact on health systems around the world. Probenecid has potent antiviral effects against these viruses and is safe to use. ”- Ralph Tripp, GRA Eminent Scholar of Vaccine and Therapeutic Studies

It is common to reuse drugs that have already been approved to work against a problem. For example, remdesivir was originally intended to fight the Ebola virus, but when it showed promise in fighting the coronavirus it was used to fight COVID-19.

In addition to preventing disease before it starts, probenecid may also make other treatments more effective. Probenecid is already used to make some antibiotics more effective, so it is possible that the drug may work in conjunction with other COVID-19 treatments as well.

Now the researchers are investigating which dosage of probenecid could have the greatest effect in fighting viruses in humans. TrippBio will begin clinical trials of the drug later this year.

“SARS-CoV-2, RSV and flu are having a huge impact on health systems around the world,” said Tripp. “Probenecid has a strong antiviral effect against these viruses and works safely.”