In a the search for a treatment for the novel coronavirus, scientists have identified nearly 70 drugs, some of which are used for conditions not even remotely related to infectious diseases, The New York Times reports, and are working to test them and possibly put them into use.
Getting a drug researched, developed, tested, and onto the market is an exacting, time-consuming, and arduous process that can take years if not decades. In the face of a pandemic, the need to find a solution is obviously more pressing than such a timetable would allow. Rather than focusing on creating a cure from scratch, researchers are looking into 69 existing drugs that may hold promise.
The science is complicated, but in a general sense, the coronavirus — and viruses in general — work by hijacking various proteins in the body, in the process, directing the body to produce billions of copies of the virus. If the medical community can come up with a way to stop the process, or at least interfere with it, it could possibly be a tool in the fight against the pandemic.
There are actually several drugs that work, in one way or another, by interfering with certain proteins within human cells. Some of those drugs treat disease about as far from viral infections as possible. For example, one drug being looked at is haloperidol, which treats schizophrenia. Another, metformin, treats diabetes. Drugs that treat Parkinson’s, cancer, and hypertension are also being looked at.
One drug that shows some promise has even reached the attention of President Donald Trump. Chloroquine, which kills the single-celled parasite that causes malaria, and which has been around for decades, might be a potential candidate to treat COVID-19.
As ABC News reported last week, at a press briefing, Trump called the drug a “game-changer.” However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has become the face of the fight against the pandemic in the United States, was clear that evidence that chloroquine is effective against the coronavirus is anecdotal, and anecdotes are not the same as good science.
Similarly, Nevan Krogan, a biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, warns that chloroquine could have toxic side effects.
“You need to be careful. We need more data at every level,” he said.
Another possibility is antibiotics. Although this class of drugs treats bacterial infections and are effectively useless against viruses, some do attach to human proteins. In these cases, anti-viral effectiveness could be considered a “side-effect” of the antibiotics.