Repurposing anti-malarial drug Mefloquine may check COVID-19; Study

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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A recent study conducted by a team of researchers from the Tokyo University of Science and several other institutions has revealed that mefloquine, an anti-malarial drug could be apparently used against SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19. 

The team of scientists mathematically modeled the effectiveness of mefloquine to predict its possible real-world impact, if applied to treat COVID-19. The team found that the anti-malarial drug could reduce the overall viral load in affected patients to under 7 percent and shorten the “time-till-virus-elimination” by 6.1 days.

As part of the study which was later published in the leading medical journal Frontiers in Microbiology, the researchers first screened approved anti-parasitic/anti-protozoal drugs to identify drugs with higher antiviral potency than existing antivirals.

During the screening, mefloquine was found to have the highest level of anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity among all the compounds tested. The results were better when the team tested it against other quinoline derivatives, such as hydrochloroquine, in a cell line mimicking the cell-based environments of human lung cells.

Sharing his insights about the study, Dr. Koichi Watashi, a Senior Researcher at the Tokyo University stated that, “In our cell assays, mefloquine readily reduced the viral RNA levels when applied at the viral entry phase but showed no activity during virus-cell attachment. This shows that mefloquine is effective on SARS-COV-2 entry into cells after attachment on the cell surface.”

To bolster mefloquine’s antiviral activity, the team also looked into the possibility of combining it with Nelfinavir, a drug that inhibits the replication step of SARS-CoV-2. Researchers observed that the two drugs acted in “synergy” and the drug combination showed greater antiviral activity than either showed alone, without being toxic to the cells in the cell lines themselves.

Speaking about the potential of their finding, researchers observed that while the study must be succeeded by clinical trials, “the world can hope that mefloquine becomes a drug used to effectively treat patients with COVID-19.”

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