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Common Head Lice Drug May Hold Answer To Coronavirus Cure

The common head lice drug Ivermectin, may provide the answer to killing the coronavirus according to an Australian study.

Research led by Monash University found the FDA-approved anti-parasitic drug could kill COVID-19 within 48 hours.

The Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s Dr Kylie Wagstaff, who led the study, said Ivermectin stops the SARS-CoV-2 virus growing in cell culture within that time.

SARS-CoV-2 — severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 — is the strain of virus that causes COVID-19.

“We found that the drug Ivermectin… if we used that drug on cells that are infected with the virus on a dish in the lab, then we can effectively stop the virus from growing in those cells with a single treatment,” Wagstaff told 10 News First.

“We found that a single dose of the drug was able to prevent the virus from replicating within 48 hours.”

A “dramatic” reduction in the virus replicating was also seen at 24 hours, Wagstaff added.

Ivermectin is commonly used to treat parasites. Image: Getty

It is not known how Ivermectin works to kill the virus, but Wagstaff believes it dampens down the hosts cells’ ability to clear it, similar to how the drug works on other viruses.

“Ivermectin is used around the world for treating parasitic indications, largely on worms, so we know a lot about its safety in humans,” she said.

“But our next step is to work out whether those safe doses are then able to be used on the virus and how we could then translate that to infected people.”

Nathan Jolly

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The study was a joint effort by Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) and the Peter Doherty Institute of Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital.

The findings were published on Friday in the journal Antiviral Research.

“I am excited about the prospect of Ivermectin being used as a potential drug against COVID-19,”  one of the paper's authors Dr Leon Caly said.

Wagstaff has been studying the effects of Ivermectin as an antiviral for nearly 10 years, and was part of the breakthrough research in 2012 that identified its antiviral activity.

The drug has previously been shown to be effective in vitro against other viruses, including HIV, Dengue, Influenza and the Zika virus.

3D render of coronavirus, Image: Getty

Wagstaff stresses that the drug was only shown to be effective on these viruses in vitro, and tests would need to be carried out on people.

She and MBDI Professor David Jans, who has also been researching the effects of Ivermectin on different viruses for more than 10 years, began investigating whether it would work on SARS-Cov-2 when the pandemic began.

But while this initial study has been successful, Wagstaff said funding is urgently required for further pre-clinical trials and ultimately clinical trials on people.

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19 emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab. (NIAID-RML via AP)

The next step for the team is ‘dosage optimisation’.

“We need to look at whether we can find a way to dose the virus that is still very effective but would be safe to use in humans,” Wagstaff said.

“Once we find that optimised dose we can move into clinical trials with people, provided that we get funding.”

Wagstaff also pointed out that these sorts of trials and approvals usually take decades.

“We’re trying to do this in a much more condensed time frame due to the pandemic going on,” she said.

Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s Dr Kylie Wagstaff, who led the study. Image: 10 News First

Ivermectin is only available on prescription for treating parasites, and Wagstaff warns people should not be rushing out to buy it to protect themselves against coronavirus.

“We would never recommend anyone to self medicate, only listen to your healthcare providers,” she said.

“Ivermectin is not indicated for any viral indications at all.”