HIV antiretroviral drug studied to fight COVID-19

The medicine may inhibit the replication of the virus

Published in 08/04/2020 - 11:50 By Vinícius Lisboa - Brasília

Scientists from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) have found out in the laboratory that antiretroviral Atazanavir may inhibit the replication of the new coronavirus in infected cells. The results obtained are yet to be confirmed in clinical tests before the drug becomes a possibility in battling the disease.

Researcher Milene Miranda, from the Laboratory of Measles and Respiratory Viruses of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC/Fiocruz), described results as very promising, since the antiretroviral drug used to fight the HIV not only inhibited viral replication but also reduced inflammation in infected cells. “If the patient is facing less significant inflammation, they get a better prognosis,” the biologist said.

For in vitro tests, the specialists used a viral isolate out of a sample from an infected person in Rio de Janeiro. After the tests, the methodology included computer model analysis to simulate how Atazanavir interacts with the enzyme used by the virus to replicate in the human body.

The research was sent to scientific journal Nature Communications and made available for the international scientific community in preprint format—therefore preceding peer review—which speeds up the exchange of information among experts while the proceedings behind the publication of the article are being concluded.

One of the advantages of the research with drugs already used to treat other diseases, Miranda added, is the fact that they may overcome regulatory barriers more easily, if further testing confirms the substance may be used against the coronavirus.

“After you find a new drug, the whole process—from describing in vitro activity to actually being allowed to have it administered—may take some 20 years. However, when a second use is observed in a drug that’s already in use, you can go through some of these stages a lot more quickly,” she pointed out.

Different action

The study also found that, in laboratory tests, Atazanavir was seen to work differently from the way chloroquine could operate in fighting the virus, in case it effectiveness is scientifically proven. “They’re different action mechanisms that may be combined,” Miranda reported.

Milena Miranda also noted, however, that results are not sufficient for administration in patients with the coronavirus, and should not be used for self-medication. “This is an experiment, not a clinical test. There are stages to be followed. Our goal is to draw attention to the second use of a drug, not to have everyone taking Atazanavir,” she stated. “Self-medication is never recommended.”

The research

Eighteen researchers make up the study team funded by Fiocruz, the Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support in Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ), and the Personal Enhancement Coordination (Capes).

“We highlight the importance of research work, the role of collaborative work between laboratories and the importance of investment. Only with investment can we carry out studies like this one—significant investment in training, infrastructure, and supplies,” Miranda argued.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Pedro Ivo de Oliveira / Nira Foster

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