A popular drug for liver disease, ursodiol, suppresses coronavirus infection in hamsters and prevents SARS-CoV-2 particles from penetrating lung cells. The new study by a group of European biologists was reported by Cambridge University Press.
"We were interested in alternative ways to combat coronavirus infection that do not rely on immunity in their work, like existing COVID-19 vaccines. We found that ursodiol molecules block the pathway through which viral particles enter our cells, which should protect the body from infection," said Photios Sampaziotis, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, UK.
Ursodiol is a hepatoprotector whose main component is ursodeoxycholic acid, the least aggressive kind of bile acid. Once in the liver, its molecules promote bile production and inhibit cholesterol synthesis, which has a beneficial effect on this organ in carriers of cirrhosis and other severe liver diseases.
Until recently, researchers studied the effects of ursodiol and other drugs on miniature livers grown in vitro. Recently, biologists accidentally discovered that this drug reduces the production of the ACE2 protein, which coronavirus uses to penetrate cells in the lungs and other organs of the human body.
This observation led scientists to believe that ursodiol and its analogues could be used as drugs for coronavirus infection. Sampaziotis and colleagues followed how ursodeoxycholic acid molecules affected human lung cells and Syrian hamsters infected with the delta strain of SARS-CoV-2.
These experiments showed that ursodiol blocked the reproduction of the coronavirus in human cells, and it also prevented the development of lung inflammation and other severe effects in the rodents. Scientists plan to conduct full clinical trials with volunteers in the near future to definitively test the safety and efficacy of this drug in treating COVID-19.