Spain’s first coronavirus patient has reportedly been cured of the virus with an HIV drug, giving scientists “hope.”
Doctors at a hospital in Seville, Spain treated Miguel Ángel Benítez, 62, with lopinavir/ritonavir, which is sold under the brand name Kaletra. The drug is a protease inhibitor that is typically used to treat HIV; it has been in use for over 10 years.
“It’s an experimental usage of the drug that has given good results with other viruses,” Albert Bosch, president of the Spanish Virology Society, told Spanish newspaper El Pais. “One of the biggest advantages is that they are already approved for use, so there is little doubt about their safety.”
Protease inhibitors work by targeting the enzymes that viruses such as HIV and COVID-19 use to reproduce themselves in the body.
“The results we have so far for the use of these drugs to treat coronavirus give us hope,” said Santiago Moreno, head of infectious diseases at Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid. He added that the COVID-19 protease is “very similar to that of HIV.”
Along with a dose of Kaletra, Benítez was also treated with interferon beta, a drug that prevents cells from becoming infected.
Researchers in Spain cautioned that not every coronavirus patient would necessarily respond to these drugs as well as Benítez did. But with over 100,000 coronavirus infections worldwide as of Monday, the lead is promising. It’s also not unprecedented: lopinavir/ritonavir also proved beneficial during the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak. As early as January, Chinese researchers named lopinavir/ritonavir as part of their treatment plan for coronavirus.
More research will be needed before HIV drugs become widely available for this purpose. If the drugs do show positive results for coronavirus on a larger scale, they could be rolled out quickly, since they’re already readily available, Metro UK reports.