With the coronavirus pandemic maintaining its grip on the world, the hunt for specific treatments continues.
There is some hope in existing medication that has been approved for use in other conditions.
The latest hope comes from the use of antibiotics that cost the NHS about 10p per person, per day.
Professor Michael Lisanti from the University of Salford, said: “We have identified several classes of existing MHRA/FDA-approved drugs that, we believe, will help to target the Covid-19 coronavirus, for both preventing and treating the disease and at a very low cost to the NHS.”
The researchers are proposing a new framework for understanding how ageing and senescence – deterioration with age – could contribute to the lethality of Covid-19 in older patients.
Many of these approved drugs are antibiotics, such as doxycycline and azithromycin, which strongly inhibit both inflammation and viral replication.
In his latest article Professor Lisanti, chairman of translational medicine at Salford discusses how senescent cells – which perform functions such as tumor suppression and wound healing – may be the key to understanding how to treat Covid-19 infections, with the drugs.
In the paper published in the Aging journal Professor Lisanti and his team propose these medications could be effective, and would be readily available.
One of the proposed drugs is the antibiotic azithromycin, which is widely used to treat chest, sinus, throat and skin infections, as well as sexually transmitted diseases.
The researchers say that in combination with hydroxychloroquine – which is also being trialled as a possible treatment, azithromycin was recently shown to inhibit the replication of Covid-19, in a clinical trial in France.
However, the effects of azithromycin alone were not assessed.
“Basically, it’s a very simple idea.
“If you look at the host receptors of Covid-19, they are related to senescence (biological ageing).
“Two proteins have been proposed to be the cellular receptors of Covid-19 – one is CD26 – a marker of senescence, and the other, ACE-2, is also associated with senescence.
“So, older people would be predicted to be more susceptible to Covid-19, exactly as is observed clinically in patients.
“This could increase their probability of infection, and would explain the increased fatality of Covid-19 infection in older patients.
“All of this could be related to advanced chronological age and senescent cells,” Prof Lisanti said.
He added that if that was the case, interventions could be made by targeting and removing senescent cells or by using other classes of anti-ageing drugs.
The researchers said the drugs now need to be tested in clinical trials, and with vaccines potentially not being available for around 12 months
Vaccines could be 18-to-24 months away, so it would be necessary to approved drug candidates, to re-purpose, to prevent or treat Covid-19 in the meantime.
And other drugs are already being trialled to see if they can be used in the fight against coronavirus.
This includes a trial of remdesivir, that was initially developed to treat Ebola and Marburg virus infections, which is being led by University College London.
Elsewhere, researchers a massive trial which is being coordinated by researchers at the University of Oxford, will look at the effectiveness of drugs and steroids, such as Lopinavir/Ritonavir, which is currently authorised as an anti-HIV medicine, and hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria.