When the coronavirus attacks the body of its next victim, it turns the patient’s own cells into original factories for the production of new viruses.
The process begins on the surface of the cell when the virus captures the protein, which usually helps regulate the patient’s blood pressure. The cell involuntarily lets the virus inside itself, where the “attacker” unloads his load: instructions for creating new copies of the virus.
Without its own tools for self-reproduction, the virus begins to control the cell’s mechanism: it copies its genetic code to produce more and more viral envelopes and deliver microbes to the outer surface of the cell, with the help of which it manages to begin the process of infection of the remaining cells.
Medicines that have been available to pharmacists for years can affect various parts of this process. Despite the fact that some of these drugs were not initially used as antiviral agents, scientists hope that previously invented drugs can contribute to the fight against the treatment of dangerous infections.
“We cannot afford the luxury of a five-year drug search program. We need medicine right now, ”says Warner Green, a doctor and researcher at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology.
As a result of an active search, researchers have already discovered, at first glance, several unexpected “candidates” that may be useful in the fight against coronavirus. Anti-cancer drugs, drugs for the treatment of the cardiovascular system, drugs for schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease – all of them are now considered as potential treatments for COVID-19. Now, for example, there is an active testing of chloroquine – a drug intended for the treatment of malaria.
Despite all the knowledge accumulated by mankind in the entire history of the development of medicines, scientists often do not know exactly how and why certain medicines work.
“In many cases, we don’t know all the mechanisms of their action,” says Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba. “Sometimes we do find that a drug has unexpected effects that were not recognized initially.”
These treatments may also be useful, because medications often have multiple effects on various processes in the body. According to Kindrachuk, our cells often use the same mechanism to perform various actions, and a medicine that affects this mechanism can have several results at once.
Often, these results manifest as unwanted side effects. But sometimes at the same time there are opportunities for the treatment of completely different diseases.
When men suffering from baldness started taking the drug minoxidil for blood pressure, they noticed a strange and pleasant “side” effect: their hair began to grow again. As a result, minoxidil received another name – Rogain, which is now used as a means to stimulate hair growth.
A drug called sildenafil was originally developed to treat chest pain from diseases of the cardiovascular system. However, its positive effect on erectile dysfunction was an unexpected and profitable surprise for the company, which had a patent for the production of this drug, which is now known as Viagra.
But a drug designed to treat a particular disease may not work against the virus alone.
“I think we could find a drug that is moderately effective, or several drugs that are moderately effective,” says Green. – And then the question arises: what if you combine these two moderately effective drugs? Can they enhance the effect of each other, and thus we get a very powerful antiviral drug? That is exactly what our plan is. ”
The Green-led team is now testing thousands of medications to see if they work against coronavirus in vitro. Researchers hope to get the first results in two or three months. Several teams of scientists are conducting similar experiments around the world, using robots to simultaneously perform a large number of tests.
Other scientists are working to find out how the virus interacts with various processes taking place inside human cells, and are looking for drugs that affect these processes.
These studies are at a very early stage. Any medicine that performs well during laboratory tests should first be tested on animals and then on small groups of people to make sure that it does more good than harm.
According to Green, this process can be quite a long one. He warns that this is just the first step. However, scientists already have some clues that may ultimately lead to the achievement of the goal – the victory over COVID-19.