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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Scientists in Qatar explore the possibility of repurposing existing drugs for COVID-19 treatment

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Qatar University (QU) and Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) work on expanding certain drugs’ original scope.

Scientists from QU and QBRI have been exploring the possibility of repurposing antitumor drugs for COVID-19 treatment, the university announced on Monday.

“We started by performing a computer-based analysis of the proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to explore which type of reactive metabolites would be most effective in producing proteotoxicity – damage to its proteins. Two reactive metabolites known to produce major quantitative modification of protein in physiological systems are: reactive oxygen species (ROS) and methylglyoxal (MG),” said Dr. Naila Rabbani, College of Medicine, Qatar University.

With the coronavirus pandemic still spreading globally, claiming the lives of over a million people, the need to create medical treatment for the disease is stronger than ever. Several studies have been focusing on repurposing existing drugs to fight the virus until a vaccine is finally available.

According to Dr. Paul J Thornalley, Research Director of the Diabetes Research Center at the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), the repurposed drugs do not require safety evaluation as their conditions for safe use are known and they have already been approved.

“Building on some unpublished data from previously done work by myself and Prof. Rabbani at the University of Warwick, UK, we knew that certain clinically-approved anticancer drugs increase MG levels that would be high enough to modify and inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus in human cells,” said Dr. Thornalley.

Read also: Qatar’s Sidra hospital joins international efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Thornalley added that researchers are performing further studies on doxorubicin and paclitaxel drugs to confirm their predictions on their effectiveness, determine the right dosage, and duration of treatment needed for COVID-19.

“Having established that a pharmacological increase of MG would produce a virucidal effect and therapeutic response, we identified two antitumor drugs which increase cellular MG concentration to virucidal levels: doxorubicin and paclitaxel,” said Dr. Thornalley.

While cancer drugs may damage both healthy cells and diseased cells, the question of the repurposed drugs’ safety hasn’t gone unadressed.

“A typical course of chemotherapy is at least six months or more whereas the maximum period of treatment of COVID-19 is about one month. We don’t know about the dose required yet, but if the dose is lower or similar to that used in cancer treatment then the drugs will likely have appropriate safety for use in COVID-19 treatment,” said Dr. Rabbani. “The elevation of MG for a short period is expected to be tolerable to human cells but much less so to the virus.”

According to a recent review in the British Journal of Cancer, there are now at least 37 ongoing clinical trials with anticancer drugs repurposed for COVID-19 treatment.

“The results of our on-going research are expected by end of this year In sha Allah,” said Dr Rabbani.

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