Treatment targetsThese Drugs Don’t Target the Coronavirus—They Target Us

Published 3 April 2020

In another example of the blinding speed at which science is moving during the pandemic era, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark will start a clinical trial of a drug named camostat mesylate tomorrow—barely 1 month after Cell paper showed the compound can prevent the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, from entering human cells.
Kai Kupferschmidt writes in Science that one reason the Danish researchers can act so fast is that camostat mesylate is already licensed in Japan and South Korea to treat pancreatitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas. Enough safety data were available to convince an ethical panel to greenlight the trial.
The trial also illustrates a new approach to combatting the virus. Thousands of researchers around the world are investigating existing drugs as potential therapies for COVID-19, most of them looking at antivirals, such as remdesivir, developed to treat Ebola, or Kaletra, a combination drug against HIV. But Nevan Krogan, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, sees another opportunity: “The virus can’t live by itself, right? It needs our genes and proteins in order to live and to replicate.” Camostat mesylate is one of several candidate drugs that block those interactions. They don’t target the virus, but us, the host.