Chennai: A team of researchers from India and the United States has identified that the drug Rapamycin, which is generally used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, can be repurposed to treat COVID-19 patients. The researchers said that repurposing of Rapamycin is similar to that of using the drug Remdesivir (originally developed to treat Hepatitis C) in the battle against coronavirus.
The research was conducted by the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Bhopal and the University of Nebraska Medical Centre, Nebraska.
According to a peer-reviewed research paper in the reputed International Elsevier journal, Chemico Biological Interactions, the researchers showed that the biochemical working of Rapamycin drug molecule points to its promise in treating COVID-19.
It stated that since the repurposed drug (Rapamycin) has undergone a clinical development process for the treatment of other diseases, toxicity test, many steps in pre-clinical and early clinical development can be avoided.
Thus, they said that the drug can be directly tested on COVID-19 subjects in phase-II trials.
Dr Amjad Husain, Principal Scientist & CEO IICE, IISER Bhopal said that drug repurposing was an attractive solution, given how developing a new drug would be time-consuming, considering the raging pandemic.
It added that one of the main challenges in developing antiviral drugs against COVID-19 has been the extensive mutations that the virus undergoes, thus deeming drugs ineffective. However, it said that treatment with drugs such as Rapamycin will not face that problem because it acts on host proteins and not on the virus.
Rapamycin inhibits protein synthesis and can also arrest virus replication, irrespective of the type of mutant.
The study said that apart from inhibiting protein synthesis, Rapamycin has been known to inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are immune system proteins. High levels of cytokines in the blood indicate a medical phenomenon called ‘cytokine storm’, where the body starts to attack its own cells and tissues rather than just fighting off the virus. The inhibitory action of Rapamycin towards cytokines also makes it a promising treatment for COVID-19, adds the research.
Rapamycin is also known to reduce obesity through various pathways and this can help in mitigating the severity of COVID-19 effects in obese people. Furthermore, the drug is known to induce autophagy, a cellular recycling process that helps in eliminating the damaged proteins and delaying ageing. Given higher fatalities among the aged persons, the anti-ageing properties of Rapamycin can have protective effects against COVID-10-induced morbidities, the study claims.
Recently another study got published in the prestigious journal The Lancet-Healthy Longevity that proposed the potential of Rapamycin analogues (rapalogs) to enhance resilience against SARS-CoV-2 infection and reduce the severity of COVID-19.
Although with a successful vaccination drive, the infection may be brought under control, it would likely not disappear. Currently, there are no universally approved drugs, for the treatment of COVID-19.