Plans for an accelerated pipeline to develop drug cocktails to treat COVID-19 were announced on Tuesday by researchers from several prestigious universities and institutes around the world. The pipeline could speed new and better treatments that patients could take at home to prevent serious illness, with a stated goal of making effective treatments available in “weeks, not months,” according to researchers.
An international team of scientists from the University of Virginia, University of Washington and the University of Maryland collaborated with research company MRIGlobal and collaborators in Estonia, Finland and Norway to issue the joint plan, which argued that a response based on drug cocktails – a combination of existing treatments and medicines – is a “proactive drug development strategy” and could offer the first line of defense against future pandemics.
The researchers, who published their findings in the peer-reviewed scientific journal mBio, believe that focusing on the drug cocktail strategy would reduce the burden on healthcare systems and help prevent disease spread by limiting a virus’ ability to adapt to its hosts, adding that this approach is already the norm for treating viruses such as HIV.
“We need to proactively develop drug cocktails against virus families as a whole – for example, all coronaviruses – to be ready on day one if a new virus or variant emerges. The cocktail should be low cost, easy to transport and distribute, and easy to self-administer – therefore available to people across the globe,” said study co-author and researcher Dr. Judith M. White from the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
“We hope that this concept of ‘smart drug cocktails'… will be the basis for a robust, coordinated effort against coronaviruses and other pathogenic viruses, such as Zika and Lassa fever,” she said.
Researchers proposed a five-point plan to best adapt their proposed strategy, saying healthcare systems must:
- Prioritize drugs that people could take at home either by mouth or inhalation,
- Focus on drug combinations rather than individual drugs
- Prioritize drugs that are already approved or in advanced clinical trials
- Focus on drugs that can be safely given to patients without them suffering from toxic side effects
- Use advanced computer models to identify useful drug combinations and speed development.
“Models that incorporate both the properties of the drugs and the biology of the virus spreading against an immune response can be used to identify the best way to dose promising treatments,” said Dr. Joshua T. Schiffer of the University of Washington. “These models suggest strategically combining drugs may add substantial benefit.”
“Having easily deployable, easily administered, inexpensive drug cocktails on the shelf when a new virus outbreak occurs would buy time from virus discovery to development and roll-out of sequence-dependent countermeasures like vaccines and designer drugs, and could therefore blunt the initial stages of an epidemic,” White concluded.