New antiviral drug combination is highly effective against SARS-CoV-2

Researchers have identified a powerful combination of antivirals to treat COVID-19. Combining the drug brequniar with remdesivir or molnupiravir—both approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use—inhibited the SARS-CoV-2 virus in human respiratory cells and in mice, according to a new study led by researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The findings, published in Nature, suggest that these drugs are more potent when used in combination than individually.

Microscopic view of human respiratory epithelial cells infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Researchers studied the effects of drug combinations on human respiratory epithelial cells infected with SARS-CoV-2. (Image: Nature 2022)

Though they have not yet been tested in clinical trials, the combinations of drugs identified in their study have the potential to become very promising COVID-19 treatments, says principal investigator Sara Cherry, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, who led the research with David Schultz, technical director of the Penn High-Throughput Screening Core, and Matthew Frieman, of the Center for Pathogen Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, along with collaborators from the National Institutes of Health.

“Identifying combinations of antivirals is really important, not only because doing so may increase the drugs’ potency against the coronavirus, but combining drugs also reduces the risk of resistance,” Cherry says.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has infected 382 million people and led to 5 million deaths worldwide. There remains an urgent need for therapeutics to treat COVID-19, which has been amplified by the emerging threats of new variants that may evade vaccines. In response to this demand, Cherry and a team of collaborators have screened 18,000 drugs in search of antiviral activity, using live SARS-CoV-2 infection in human respiratory epithelial cells, because lung cells are the major target for the virus.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.