A research team led by the University of Birmingham and Keele University in the UK has found that a licensed oral drug, fenofibrate, and its active form, fenofibric acid, can substantially reduce SARS-CoV-2 infection in human cells in the laboratory.

Approved in various countries, fenofibrate is being used for the treatment of conditions such as increased cholesterol and fatty substance levels in the blood.

Fenofibrate decreased Covid-19 infection by up to 70% at concentrations that are safe and attainable with its standard clinical dose, the University of Birmingham noted.

Led by the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Italy, the research was conducted in partnership with the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the University of Liverpool, UK.

In the study, researchers analysed a panel of presently licensed drugs, including fenofibrate, to detect candidates that can interrupt angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and Spike interactions.

Fenofibrate was selected and assessed for efficacy in reducing infection in cells in the laboratory with the use of the SARS-CoV-2 original strains isolated last year.

Furthermore, additional unpublished findings showed that the drug worked against the newly emergent SARS-CoV-2 variants such as the Alpha and Beta variants.

The university added that further research is underway to analyse the drug’s efficacy against the Delta variant.

University of Birmingham School of Biomedical Sciences director of research Dr Farhat Khanim said: “The development of new more infectious SARS-CoV-2 variants has resulted in a rapid expansion in infection rates and deaths in several countries around the world, especially the UK, US and Europe.

“Whilst vaccine programmes will hopefully reduce infection rates and virus spread in the longer term, there is still an urgent need to expand our arsenal of drugs to treat SARS-CoV-2-positive patients.”

The team plans to commence clinical trials to evaluate fenofibrate in hospitalised Covid-19 patients.

The US’ Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel are currently progressing two trials of the drug in hospitalised subjects with Covid-19.