Latest numbers indicate that COVID-19 cases are on the rise again due to the Delta variant circulating. With vaccination rates slowing in many areas, and some areas of the country maintaining large percentages of unvaccinated people, the need for an effective treatment is urgent. Could a drug used to help treat dogs with cancer help even against new variants?
The drug has already peaked health experts’ interest due to its potential ability to help treat skin cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple sclerosis.
But now, University of Chicago researchers hope it could also offer hope in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Laboratory trials of masitinib found it stopped the virus replicating, which is how it ends up causing disease.
Studies showed it worked just as well against variants, and other similar viruses.
Masitinib was found to inhibit the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in human cell cultures and in a mouse model, leading to much lower viral loads.
“Inhibitors of the main protease of SARS-CoV-2, like masitinib, could be a new potential way to treat COVID patients, especially in early stages of the disease,” said Dr Savas Tay, professor of molecular engineering at the University of Chicago.
He added: “COVID-19 will likely be with us for many years, and novel coronaviruses will continue to arise.
“Finding existing drugs that have antiviral properties can be an essential part of treating these diseases.”
Dr Nir Drayman, who co-wrote the paper, said: “Masitinib has the potential to be an effective antiviral now, especially when someone is first infected, and the antiviral properties of the drug will have the biggest effect.
“This isn’t the first novel coronavirus outbreak, and it’s not going to be the last.
“In addition to vaccines, we need to have new treatments available to help those who have been infected.”
Though masitinib is currently only approved to treat mast cell tumours in dogs, it has undergone human clinical trials for several other diseases, including melanoma, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and asthma.
It has also been shown to be safe in humans but does cause side effects, including gastrointestinal disorders, and could potentially raise a patient’s risk for heart disease.
During the study trial, masitinib was found to be the most potent, according to the study published yesterday.
“That gave us a strong indication of how this drug works, and we became confident that it has a chance to work in humans,” Dr Drayman said.