The scientists are now seeking funding for pre-clinical testing and clinical trials to find out if there is a safe dose that kills the coronavirus in humans who have contracted the COVID-19 disease that results from the virus, SARS-CoV-2.
Ivermectin is listed by the World Health Organisation as an essential medicine and is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of viruses such as HIV, dengue, influenza and zika.
The BDI’s Kylie Wagstaff, who led the study, cautioned that the tests conducted in the study were in vitro and that trials needed to be carried out in people.
Dr Wagstaff said the scientists showed the drug, Ivermectin, stopped the SARS-CoV-2 virus growing in cell culture within 48 hours.
“We found that even a single dose could essentially remove all viral RNA [genetic material of the virus] by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours there was a really significant reduction in it,” Dr Wagstaff said.
The use of existing medicines that have already been shown to be safe for humans with other diseases can shorten the time taken to approve their use to treat new diseases such as COVID-19.
“Ivermectin is very widely used and seen as a safe drug. We need to figure out now whether the dosage you can use it at in humans will be effective – that’s the next step,” Dr Wagstaff said.
“In times when we’re having a global pandemic and there isn’t an approved treatment, if we had a compound that was already available around the world, then that might help people sooner.
“Realistically, it’s going to be a while before a vaccine is broadly available.”
She said the mechanism by which Ivermectin works on the coronavirus is not yet known, but based on its action in other viruses, it probably works to stop the virus “dampening down” the host cells’ ability to repel it.
It is one of several existing treatments that are the subject of experiments to see if they can also safely treat COVID-19 while other scientists pursue a vaccine – a process likely to take 12 to 18 months.
The study’s first author is Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Leon Caly, a senior medical scientist at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at the Doherty Institute where the experiments with live coronavirus were conducted.
“As the virologist who was part of the team who were first to isolate and share SARS-CoV-2 outside of China in January 2020, I am excited about the prospect of Ivermectin being used as a potential drug against COVID-19,” Dr Caly said.
Dr Wagstaff made a previous breakthrough finding on Ivermectin in 2012 when she identified the drug and its antiviral activity with Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute professor David Jans, also an author on this paper. Professor Jans and his team have been researching Ivermectin for more than 10 years with different viruses.
Dr Wagstaff and Professor Jans started investigating whether it worked on the SARS-CoV-2 virus as soon as the pandemic was known to have started.
The use of Ivermectin to combat COVID-19 would depend on the results of further pre-clinical testing and, ultimately, clinical trials, with funding urgently required to keep furthering the work, Dr Wagstaff said.
The findings of the study were published overnight in the journal, Antiviral Research, under the title, The FDA-approved Drug Ivermectin inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro.
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