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Anti-Parasitic Drug Inhibits Replication of SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus in Cell Cultures

A team of scientists from the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University and the Peter Doherty Institute of Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) has found that a single dose of the FDA-approved drug, Ivermectin, can stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus growing in cell culture, effectively eradicating all genetic material of the virus within 48 hours.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (blue) infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (red), isolated from a patient sample. Image credit: NIAID.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (blue) infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (red), isolated from a patient sample. Image credit: NIAID.

“We showed that Ivermectin stopped the SARS-CoV-2 virus growing in cell culture within 48 hours,” said Dr. Kylie Wagstaff, a researcher in the Biomedicine Discovery Institute and corresponding author of the study.

“We found that even a single dose could essentially remove all viral RNA by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours there was a really significant reduction in it.”

Ivermectin is an FDA-approved broad spectrum anti-parasitic agent that in recent years Dr. Wagstaff’s team, along with other groups, has shown to have anti-viral activity against a broad range of viruses in vitro.

Dr. Wagstaff cautioned that the tests conducted in the new study were also in vitro and that trials needed to be carried out in people.

“Ivermectin is very widely used and seen as a safe drug,” she said.

“We need to figure out now whether the dosage you can use it at in humans will be effective — that’s the next step.”

“In times when we’re having a global pandemic and there isn’t an approved treatment, if we had a compound that was already available around the world then that might help people sooner. Realistically it’s going to be a while before a vaccine is broadly available.”

Schematic of ivermectin’s proposed antiviral action on coronavirus. IMPα/β1 binds to the coronavirus cargo protein in the cytoplasm (top) and translocates it through the nuclear pore complex (NPC) into the nucleus where the complex falls apart and the viral cargo can reduce the host cell’s antiviral response, leading to enhanced infection. Ivermectin binds to and destabilises the Impα/β1 heterodimer thereby preventing Impα/β1 from binding to the viral protein (bottom) and preventing it from entering the nucleus. This likely results in reduced inhibition of the antiviral responses, leading to a normal, more efficient antiviral response. Image credit: Caly et al, doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2020.104787.

Schematic of ivermectin’s proposed antiviral action on coronavirus. IMPα/β1 binds to the coronavirus cargo protein in the cytoplasm (top) and translocates it through the nuclear pore complex (NPC) into the nucleus where the complex falls apart and the viral cargo can reduce the host cell’s antiviral response, leading to enhanced infection. Ivermectin binds to and destabilises the Impα/β1 heterodimer thereby preventing Impα/β1 from binding to the viral protein (bottom) and preventing it from entering the nucleus. This likely results in reduced inhibition of the antiviral responses, leading to a normal, more efficient antiviral response. Image credit: Caly et al, doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2020.104787.

Although the mechanism by which Ivermectin works on the virus is not known, it is likely, based on its action in other viruses, that it works to stop the virus ‘dampening down’ the host cells’ ability to clear it.

“As the virologist who was part of the team who were first to isolate and share SARS-CoV-2 outside of China in January 2020, I’m excited about the prospect of Ivermectin being used as a potential drug against COVID-19,” said Dr. Leon Caly, a senior medical scientist at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Doherty Institute, and first author of the study.

The findings were published in the journal Antiviral Research.

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Leon Caly et al. The FDA-approved Drug Ivermectin inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro. Antiviral Research, published online April 3, 2020; doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2020.104787

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