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Israeli researchers claim existing drug could stop coronavirus in its tracks

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The team, led by Hebrew University Professor Yaakov Nahmias say that the cholesterol-lowering drug Fenofibrate, sold under the name Tricor, could “downgrade” COVID-19 to a simple cold


In what could be a major game changer in the fight against coronavirus, Israeli researchers have claimed that a simple medication, which has been on the market for decades, could be used to treat the virus and “downgrade it” to a simple cold.

The team, led by Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s (HU) Prof. Yaakov Nahmias says “early research looks promising.”

In the study, Nahmias explained that the novel coronavirus prevents the routine burning of carbohydrates.  As a result, large amounts of fat accumulate inside lung cells, a condition the virus needs in order to reproduce.  

For the last three-months, Nahmias and Dr. Benjamin tenOever from New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center have been focusing on the ways in which the SARS-CoV-2 changes patients’ lungs in order to reproduce itself leading them to this discovery.

“If our findings are borne out by clinical studies, this course of treatment could potentially downgrade COVID-19’s severity into nothing worse than a common cold,” Nahmias said.

These findings could explain why patients with high blood sugar and cholesterol levels are often at a particularly high risk to develop COVID-19.

“Viruses,” the team explained, “are parasites that lack the ability to replicate on their own, so they take control of our cells to help accomplish that task.”

Nahmias added that by understanding how the SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) “controls our metabolism, we can wrestle back control from the virus and deprive it from the very resources it needs to survive.”

Prof Nahmias’ Lab at Hebrew University’s Grass Center for Bioengineering.
(Photo Credits: Daniel Hanoch)

Prior to their discovery, Nahmias and tenOever started doing FDA-approved studies using drugs that interfere with the virus’ ability to reproduce.  

In lab studies, the cholesterol-lowering drug Fenofibrate, sold under the name Tricor, showed extremely promising results. 

“By allowing lung cells to burn more fat, fenofibrate breaks the virus’ grip on these cells, and prevents SARS CoV-2’s ability to reproduce,” the researchers said.

Amazingly, they found that within only five days of treatment, the virus almost completely disappeared. 

“With second-wave infections spiking in countries across the globe, these findings couldn’t come at a better time,” Nahmias stressed, adding that global cooperation may provide the cure.  

For tenOever, the collaboration between the two labs “demonstrates the power of adopting a multi-disciplinary approach to study SARS-CoV-2 and that our findings could truly make a significant difference in reducing the global burden of COVID-19.” 

“While there are many international efforts currently underway to develop a coronavirus vaccine, studies suggest that vaccines may only protect patients for a few months.”

But, the researchers concluded, “by blocking the virus’ ability to function, rather than neutralizing its ability to strike in the first place, may be the key to turning the tables on COVID-19.”

Their findings appear in this week’s Cell Press’ Sneak Peak.

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