People wear surgical masks as they walk along Chinatown's Grant Avenue on February 26, 2020 in San Francisco, California. Image Credit: AFP

London: Researchers have revealed that already approved drugs might hold the key to treating the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which has claimed over 2,700 lives in China.

"Drug re-purposing is a strategy for generating additional value from an existing drug by targeting diseases other than that for which it was originally intended," said study senior author Denis Kainov from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in the US.

"For example, teicoplanin, oritavancin, dalbavancin and monensin are approved antibiotics that have been shown to inhibit corona - and other viruses in the laboratory," Kainov added.

According to the study, published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, the researchers said that these and other already tested "safe-in-man" broad-spectrum antiviral drugs are good candidates for treating the disease to start with, given that there are currently no treatments for COVID-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that virus "can cause mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever. It can be more severe for some persons and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties. Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as, diabetes and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus."

The overall coronavirus toll in China has increased to 2,744 with 78,497 confirmed cases.

The advantage of re-purposing a drug is that all of the details surrounding the drug development are already known, from the chemical synthesis steps and manufacturing processes to information regarding the different phases of clinical testing, the researchers said.

"Therefore, repositioning of launched or even failed drugs to viral diseases provides unique translational opportunities, including a substantially higher probability of success to market as compared with developing new virus-specific drugs and vaccines, and a significantly reduced cost and timeline to clinical availability," the researchers wrote.

The researchers reviewed information on the discovery and development of broad-spectrum antiviral agents (BSAAs), which are drugs that target viruses from two or more different viral families.

They summarised what they found for 120 drugs that had already been shown to be safe for humans use and created a database, which is freely accessible.

Thirty-one of these were found by the researchers to be possible candidates for prophylaxis and treatment of the COVID-19 infections.

The researchers also found that clinical investigations have recently begun of five possible drug candidates to treat the COVID-19 virus.

"In the future, BSAAs will have global impact by decreasing morbidity and mortality from viral and other diseases, maximizing the number of healthy life years, improving the quality of life of infected patients and decreasing the costs of patient care," the researchers concluded.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) is a public research university in Norway. NTNU has over 8,000 employees and over 40,000 students.