Existing drugs like statins may be promising COVID-19 treatments

Commentary by two Penn researchers outline a systematic framework for repurposing existing drugs to quickly find new therapies, after an observational study suggested statins may be helpful in combating COVID-19.

New data suggest statins as a potentially helpful class of drugs to fight COVID-19, and pointing to that study, two researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine propose a framework for a systematic approach to drug repurposing for the novel coronavirus. Their commentary is published in Cell Metabolism.

closeup view of gloved hand holding a vial and pipette in a medical lab.

“I prescribe statins to patients with high cholesterol very often—these medications are safe, affordable, and widely available. To be able to use a drug with this long history of safety, that is relatively cheap and that is already in production around the world, compared to the time and cost it takes to develop entirely new drugs, would be a major step forward in treating this virus,” says Daniel Rader, chair of genetics and associate director of Penn’s Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics.

Earlier this month, Xiao-Jing Zhang and colleagues reported the first large observational study of statin use among 13,981 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Hubei Province, China, in Cell Metabolism, and they found the risk for 28-day all-cause mortality was 5.2% in the statin group and 9.4% in the non-statin group.

Rader and co-author David Fajgenbaum, an assistant professor of translational medicine & human genetics and director of the Center for Cytokine Storm Treatment & Laboratory, suggest there are several possible ways in which statins could be helpful in COVID-19 patients.

“Everyone wants effective treatments for COVID-19 as soon as possible, but we have to be disciplined about evaluating the data,” Fajgenbaum says. “COVID-19 is an incredibly complex disease. This is an interesting result, but it is not the final answer on whether statins are effective treatments for COVID-19. These results warrant further research through well-designed randomized-control trials—that is our best bet to save lives.”

This story is by Melissa Moody. Read more at Penn Medicine News.