We found and tested 47 old drugs that might treat the coronavirus: Results show promising leads and a whole new way to fight COVID-19
The more researchers know about how the coronavirus attaches, invades and hijacks human cells, the more effective the search for drugs to fight it. That was the idea my colleagues and I hoped to be true when we began building a map of the coronavirus two months ago. The map shows all of the coronavirus proteins and all of the proteins found in the human body that those viral proteins could interact with.
In theory, any intersection on the map between viral and human proteins is a place where drugs could fight the coronavirus. But instead of trying to develop new drugs to work on these points of interaction, we turned to the more than 2,000 unique drugs already approved by the FDA for human use. We believed that somewhere on this long list would be a few drugs or compounds that interact with the very same human proteins as the coronavirus.
We were right.
Interestingly, a seventh compound – an ingredient commonly found in cough suppressants, called dextromethorphan – does the opposite: Its presence helps the virus. When our partners tested infected cells with this compound, the virus was able to replicate more easily, and more cells died.