Hong Kong researchers discover oral drug combination that could treat Covid-19

Researchers from The University of Hong Kong evaluated the combined use of the clinically used drugs, colloidal bismuth subcitrate and N-acetyl cysteine. PHOTO: THE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG

HONG KONG (CAIXIN GLOBAL) Hong Kong researchers have discovered a new combination of drugs that could work as an orally administered Covid-19 treatment.

The broad-spectrum antiviral medication has the potential to facilitate treatment at home and reduce the burden at hospitals, they said.

Researchers from The University of Hong Kong evaluated the combined use of clinically used drugs, colloidal bismuth subcitrate (CBS) and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), and found that the cocktail therapy - a combination of two or more drugs - suppresses the replication cycle of the virus, reduces viral loads in the lungs and ameliorates virus-induced pneumonia in a hamster infection model, according to the paper published in the journal of Chemical Science.

The combination "CBS+3NAC" also suppresses replication of other types of coronaviruses including the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus, according to the researchers who noted their study.

For most patients with a mild to moderate infection, an oral Covid-19 treatment "would help to facilitate outpatient treatment and reduce the burdens of healthcare facilities," the researchers wrote.

Professor Sun Hongzhe, at the university's Department of Chemistry who led the study, told Caixin that both drugs have been in clinical use for more than 20 years.

The research team is in touch with pharmaceutical companies, in hopes of moving forward with clinical trials and the manufacturing of the drug combination, according to Prof Sun.

As the drugs have already been used for treating other conditions, their clinical trials may be conducted directly in phase III or IV, which could significantly shorten the development process, he said.

As the Omicron and Delta variants continue to plague communities worldwide, the Hong Kong study said there is "an urgent need for safe and effective therapeutic options for Covid-19 which remain scarce" while noting the variant's "enhanced transmissibility and reduced sensitivity to vaccine-induced protection".

Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorisation for Pfizer's Covid-19 pill, Paxlovid, which is also a cocktail therapy that works in combination with a second medicine called ritonavir to help the Pfizer compound stay in the bloodstream longer.

  • This story was originally published by Caixin Global.

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