The Coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to its knees since we are desperate to find a cure and flatten the curve. It has been said the virus behaves like the flu; hence every patient is advised to take lots of fluids and rest. However, we are hopeful that scientists will find a cure and stop the infections and deaths; thus, over 150 drugs are being researched. Even cat drugs are being tested as a treatment for coronavirus, and the future looks promising. Here is everything we know so far about it.
Why Scientists are Hopeful Cat Drugs Will Work in Humans
Although animals that contract the feline infectious peritonitis(FIP) usually do not exhibit any symptoms, some cats get severely affected and die. The fatalities are because once the virus enters the body, it mutates and infects a particular type of immune cell. As a result, the cat gets a deadly inflammatory reaction, which causes fluids to accumulate in the lungs. Scientists spot the similarity between that coronavirus and the human coronavirus; thus, it made sense for them to see if the drugs used to treat the FIP were effective in treating COVID-19.
In 2018 and 2019, Professor Niels Pederson tested GS-441524 and GC376 on cats to determine if they were an effective cure. As published by Science News, the scientists reported that the drugs were effective without any other form of treatment. The article explained that RNA viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, make long strings of proteins, and the protease enzymes chop them into smaller pieces enabling the virus to embed itself in a cell. GC376, therefore, works by preventing M protease, the critical enzyme, from chopping up the proteins, thus inhibiting viral replication and stops the infection.
The study of SARS treatment drugs using protease inhibitors dates back to 2003 when researchers discovered that they could cure the fatal feline disease. The scientists involved with the study regarding the cat drugs as treatment for coronavirus said the progress they had seen during lab tests was enough for them to make more effective drugs; the current drug results were also sufficient to continue with clinical trials as antiretrovirals for COVID-19. Lemieux, one of the lead scientists, told Science Daily that since the drugs had shown little to no toxicity in cats, they do not need to test it in animal models for them to be allowed to proceed with clinical trials.
How the Cat Drug Has Become Prevalent in the Black Market
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, GS-441524 is more lucrative in the human drug market than cat market; hence companies that make it target it for humans instead of making it for cats. Since it is a variant of the remdesivir that was supposed to be a treatment for Ebola but failed, Gilead hoped that remdesivir could treat the coronavirus in humans. As a result, it refused to license its use in cats hoping that FDA would approve remdesivir use in humans. The main reason for refusing to license GS-441524 is because the similarity to remdesivir would cause an investigation to be launched if GS-441524 was found to have any adverse effects in cats.
The lack of FDA approval of GS-441524 left cat owners desperate without any legal drug to treat the feline infectious peritonitis. Therefore, after failing to get licensed by Gilead, one company to make the FIP drug went ahead to manufacture a drug anyway, although the formula remains unclear. With time, more companies have made their variations of the drug, and without FDA approval, the only option that cat owners have is to depend on the black market to save their cats. According to The Atlantic, Susan Gingrich is devoting her life to pressure Gilead to market the drug or allow other companies to sell it after her cat died of FIP. She has even written letters to the company, but no one bothered to respond. The lack of a regulated market has also caused the drug to be expensive, with a course of injections over 12 weeks going for as much as $10,000 depending on cat weight, the brand of the drug, and FIP type.
Other Drugs Being Tested as Possible Coronavirus Treatments
According to BBC, of all the drugs in the trial, only one, dexamethasone, has been proven to be effective in fighting the coronavirus. It was used in the UK’s Recovery Trial, the largest clinical trial in the world, with over 12,000 patients participating. If the patients are on ventilators, it increased chances of survival by a third, while for those on oxygen, it improved their likelihood of surviving by a fifth. The drug acts by reducing inflammation, and unlike the cat drugs, it is very cheap.
Although Gilead remains hopeful with remdesivir to the extent of failing to license the variant, the drug is yet to have significant effects. By August 24, 2020, it was yet to be regarded as a life-saving medicine, but it reduced the duration of the symptoms to 11 from 15 days. However, the US is stocking up on the drug and has bought nearly all of the supply in readiness for the fight against the coronavirus. Other drugs that behave like the cat drugs include Interferon-beta, which is a protein that reduces inflammation.
Although protease inhibitors in the cat drugs make it seem effective in treating COVID-19, not all the drugs with the inhibitors have been effective. Lopinavir/ritonavir, a protease inhibitor, was the first to be proposed for use as a treatment against the coronavirus. However, it was discovered its use added no benefits than what was provided by standard care in those with mild symptoms. On the other hand, patients who had the treatment administered within 12 days of symptoms showing, had better results.