Anti-flu drug prevents coronavirus better than hydroxychloroquine

October 14, 2020

Treatment with a high dose of the anti-flu drug favipiravir has been found to have a more potent antiviral effect than hydroxychloroquine in an animal experiment with the novel coronavirus. Virologists at the KU Leuven Rega Institute (KU Leuven) in Belgium have been testing existing drugs in search of a vaccine – they detected hardly any infectious virus particles in hamsters that received favipiravir even after exposure to an infected hamster.

Virologist Suzanne Kaptein and colleagues at KU Leuven chose to use hamsters because the small creatures develop a lung pathology similar to mild COVID-19 in humans, unlike mice. The virus also replicates itself strongly in hamsters after infection.

For the experiment, hamsters were given several doses of hydroxychloroquine or favipiravir for less than a week; drug treatment was started one hour before the direct infection or one day before the exposure to an infected hamster.

While treatment with hydroxychloroquine was found to have no effect on virus levels even after four days, the team detected hardly any infectious virus particles in the hamsters that received a high dose of favipiravir. Moreover, hamsters that were in a cage with an infected hamster and had been given the high favipiravir dose did not develop an obvious infection. Those that had not received the drug all became infected after having shared a cage with an infected hamster.

It has led to cautious optimism about favipiravir, at least for emergency preventive use. According to Kaptein, “If further research shows that the results are the same in humans, the drug could be used right after someone from a high-risk group has come into contact with an infected person. It may likely also be active during the early stages of the disease.”

It is not known whether long-term use of favipiravir, especially at a high dose, has side effects. The virologists warn that favipiravir is not a panacea – no drug has yet been specifically developed against the coronavirus.


Category: Features, Pharmaceuticals

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