03:11 GMT14 August 2020
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    Researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York believe that an existing drug, already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), may be able to reduce the severity of COVID-19 to that of a common cold or perhaps eliminate symptoms altogether.

    According to their study, which was posted online on July 14 but is still pending review before it can be published in the Cell Metabolism journal, fenofibrate, a common medication used to treat high cholesterol levels, may also prove effective in treating the novel coronavirus.

    “Viruses are parasites,” researcher Ya’acov Nahmias explained to The Jerusalem Post. “They cannot replicate themselves. They cannot make new viruses. They have to get inside a human cell and then hijack that cell.” According to the scientists, the virus causes fat to accumulate inside lungs cells, which it uses to reproduce. 

    “By understanding how the SARS-CoV-2 controls our metabolism, we can wrestle back control from the virus and deprive it from the very resources it needs to survive,” Nahmias said, adding that the researchers’ theory may also explain why patients with high blood sugar and cholesterol levels are more susceptible to becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

    Through their analysis of various lung tissue samples, the researchers found that fenofibrate “reversed the metabolic changes induced by SARS-CoV-2 blocking viral replication,” causing the virus to almost totally disappear. 

    The effect was seen after only five days of treatment with the drug.

    “Taken together, our data suggest that elevated lipid metabolism may underlie aspects of COVID-19 pathogenesis, offering new therapeutic avenues in targeting this critical pathway on which the virus relies,” the researchers concluded in their report.

    The study was conducted in both Israel and New York and was replicated multiple times with different tissue samples, suggesting that the results are reproducible.

    The researchers are hoping to soon fast-track clinical trials of fenofibrate in both Israel and the US to continue to evaluate its potential as a COVID-19 treatment.

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