London: Researchers have found that medicine currently used to combat malaria can prevent infection with COVID-19 in different cells.

The medicine Atovaquone has a protective effect both before and after infection with the coronavirus in human cells in the laboratory, which means that it can in all probability be used both for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, said researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark.

Atovaquone has already been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As part of the medication Malarone, it has been used for the treatment and prevention of malaria since 1999.

“This is an exciting study which has shown that Atovaquone can be used – in the laboratory at least – to protect lung cells against several variants of the coronavirus,” said David Olagnier, Associate Professor at the Department of Biomedicine.

“Being able to use already approved medicines against COVID-19 would be ideal because it would save both time and resources during the developmental phase,” he added.

For the researchers, the ability of Atovaquone to block infection across different viral variants (both the Alpha, Beta and Delta variants) has been particularly important, together with the fact that the medicine can reduce the inflammatory response which is known to contribute to the development of Covid-19.

The team also plans to investigate whether the drug has an effect against the Omicron variant.

However, although the study reveals Atovaquone`s potent effect against the virus in a petri dish, it cannot directly confirm the effectiveness of the drug against COVID-19 in the human body.

The research must first be validated in two clinical trials with patients. Both trials began in 2020 and both are testing Atovaquone in combination with the drug azithromycin in patients with confirmed COVID-19.

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