As the world tries to find new cures and re-formulate existing treatments to tackle COVID-19, a study by Australian scientists offers a ray of hope. According to the researchers, a commonly available anti-parasitic was able to kill the dreaded coronavirus within 48 hours.

The study, a collaboration between Monash University's Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) and Peter Doherty Institute of Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), found that Ivermectin, a drug used to treat conditions such as head lice and scabies, could effectively wipe out the SARS-CoV-2 virus' genetic material in 48 hours.

"We found that even a single dose could essentially remove all viral RNA by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours there was a really significant reduction in it," said Dr. Kylie Wagstaff, lead author of the study, in a statement.

SARS-CoV-2
SARS-CoV-2 Wikimedia Commons

Found to be effective against several viruses

Ivermectin is an easily available FDA-approved anti-parasitic drug. During in vitro tests against a wide range of viruses such as Dengue, HIV, Influenza, and Zika, the drug was found to be effective in eradicating them. And now the SARS-CoV-2 joins the list.

Dr. Wagstaff and her colleague, Prof. David Jans, have been researching on Ivermectin for over ten years with several viruses. In 2012, they discovered its antiviral property. The duo began investigating Ivermectin's action against the coronavirus immediately after the pandemic's onset.

It is not clear what the mechanism behind Ivermectin's neutralization of the virus is. However, based on its activity against other viruses. Dr. Wagstaff suggested that the drug could be preventing the virus from 'dampening down' the host cell's capacity to get rid of it. The scientists found that the anti-parasitic stopped the growth of the coronavirus in cell culture within a period of 48 hours.

coronavirus
Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Wikimedia Commons

Advantage of an existing drug

Several researchers across the world have been trying to repurpose existing treatments and drugs to find a solution to stop the virus in its tracts. For example, Kaletra, a combination of two antiretroviral drugs — lopinavir and ritonavir—used to treat HIV, and a broad-spectrum antiviral drug, Remdesivir, are being looked at possible treatment options against COVID-19. Therefore, and an existing drug could potentially save time and lives.

Highlighting this advantage, Dr. Wagstaff said, "In times when we're having a global pandemic and there isn't an approved treatment, if we had a compound that was already available around the world then that might help people sooner. Realistically it's going to be a while before a vaccine is broadly available."

Can this drug be a game-changer?

It could be pre-mature to celebrate just yet as Dr. Wagstaff cautioned that the results were from tests conducted in vitro during the study. It needs to be tested on people and an ideal dosage must be devised. "Ivermectin is very widely used and seen as a safe drug. We need to figure out now whether the dosage you can use it in humans will be effective - that's the next step," said Dr. Wagstaff.

The use of the drug to fight COVID-19 will also hinge on the results gathered from pre-clinical testing and finally clinical trials along with funding needed to carry on their work, concluded Dr. Wagstaff