A conventional gout medication that is utilised widely around the world has proven to be effective at combatting COVID-19, potentially adding a new weapon in defeating the virus.
The discovery, achieved by a team of researchers at the University of Georgia, provides new hope of a variable therapeutic that is proficient in defeating the deadly disease that has caused over four million deaths globally. The team discovered that probenecid – a gout medication – displayed broad antiviral properties that make it a prime candidate to fight SARS-CoV-2 infection. The gout medication may also aid in treating common and deadly respiratory viruses such as RSV and flu.
Probenecid is approved by the FDA and is widely available throughout parts of the world, demonstrates minimal side effects and has been implemented on the market for over 40 years.
The team’s research is published in Nature’s Scientific Reports.
Ralph Tripp, the lead author of the study and GRA Eminent Scholar of Vaccine and Therapeutic Studies in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said: “There’s really nothing out there to safely fight these viruses. This antiviral works for all RNA respiratory viruses we tested, including SARS-CoV-2. RSV, coronavirus, and flu all circulate in the same season. The bottom line is you can potentially reduce infection and disease using this one oral drug.”
How does the gout medication work?
A virus works by co-opting an individual’s cells, where it then replicates and produces more of the virus; however, probenecid obstructs this replication process, stopping the virus from infecting the person’s cells.
During clinical development at the TrippBio, Tripp identified that the gout medication works as a prophylactic prior to virus exposure and a post-exposure treatment in animal models against SARS-CoV-2 and flu. Additionally, probenecid was shown to be effective in combatting the RSV in vitro, with in vivo studies currently in progress.
The gout medication would predominantly be used after contracting the virus but could also potentially be implemented to prevent people with known exposures from getting sick due to its prophylactic qualities.
Bolstering the treatment arsenal
The treatments traditionally employed to aid seriously ill COVID-19 patients are remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies, which can only be administered through IV and by the time they are required, it is usually too late for the patient.
Tripp said: “These treatments have seen some effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2, but they’re very expensive and very hard to come by. In reality, there are only a handful of options that can actually be used because of the cost, restricted IV usage, and lack of access. That’s not very useful to the world.”
Nevertheless, probenecid is widely available, meaning that primary care physicians would be able to prescribe the gout medication for a patient to pick up at their local pharmacy. This strategy of repurposing drugs for other uses is common; for example, remdesivir was initially used to fight the Ebola virus and was employed later to battle COVID-19 after demonstrating its effectiveness.
Furthermore, probenecid may potentially enhance the efficacy of other treatments and is already used to boost the potency of an array of antibiotics, meaning it could work in conjunction with other COVID-19 treatments. The researchers are now working to distinguish the most optimal dose of probenecid, with clinical trials set to begin within the year.
“SARS-CoV-2, RSV and flu have a huge impact on health systems throughout the world,” Tripp commented. “Probenecid has a potent antiviral effect against these viruses, and it works safely.”