Needles In A Haystack: Could Existing Drugs Treat COVID-19?

Getting a new drug on the market can sometimes take more than a decade. And that’s why already existing drugs are being used in hundreds of clinical trials around the world, and in Boston, seeking a treatment for COVID-19.

Several Boston area hospitals are doing such trials with patients to test antiviral drugs — like one made for Ebola and another for influenza. At Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories (NEIDL), researchers are quickly screening thousands of more familiar drugs to see if any might hold promise against COVID-19.

“The most sensible thing to do when you’re dealing with a pandemic like this is to try and take what you already have on the shelf and see if it works,” said microbiologist Robert Davey, who leads the research team at BU’s NEIDL that specializes in screening pre-existing drugs.

Davey and his team are starting with a library of some 6,800 FDA approved drug compounds from the Broad Institute’s Drug Repurposing Hub. These are all small molecule drugs — relatively inexpensive to produce and manufacture on a large scale. Many of them might be found in the average medicine cabinet.

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