UT Southwestern Scientists Investigate Pneumonia Drug as Possible COVID-19 Treatment

While computer models suggest that atovaquone binds to an important part of the virus, the researchers haven’t confirmed this in the lab

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University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center scientists say they have identified a possible treatment for COVID-19, and it may soon be tested on North Texas -- as first reported by The Dallas Morning News.

Atovaquone, a drug best known for its use treating pneumonia in HIV patients, prevents SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from replicating in cells. While the results posted online are promising, they have not yet been checked for errors.

UT Southwestern Cardiologist and Researcher Dr. Hesham Sadek and Virologist John Schoggins said efforts were underway to begin human trials in a few weeks to confirm if the drug combats the virus in humans with COVID-19.

“We have no idea if this is going to work, we should just say this up front,” Sadek said. “We have to avoid hype or false hope.”

“There’s over a dozen vaccines in the pipeline and I think it’s important that there also be many different drug paths in the pipeline, in the event that one of them emerges as a promising candidate,” Schoggins said.

The team at UT Southwestern began to search for a COVID-19 treatment in March.

“We have been working for some years now on trying to identify drugs that can help regenerate the heart, which is the primary interest of my lab,” Sadek said.

Part of that process involves repurposing – looking at drugs already approved by the FDA for other uses.

“When COVID hit, we wanted to try to do something and so we used this expertise to identify inhibitors of one of the main proteins of the virus,” Sadek said.

“Hesham approached me and said we have done some computer work and found these interesting drugs that might be potentially inhibiting the viral protein,” Schoggins added.

Schoggins said his lab set up a drug screening strategy and found that atovaquone showed promise in inhibiting the virus that causes COVID-19.

“There’s not a lot of labs in the country that can actually work with the virus in the lab and grow it,” said Schoggins. “It felt very important to me that we leverage our expertise and abilities.”

Click here to read more from our partners at The Dallas Morning News.

NBC 5's Diana Zoga contributed to this report.

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