London: Researchers have identified a potential new drug treatment that suppresses the reproduction of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, in infected cells.

To multiply, all viruses infect cells and reprogramme them to produce novel viruses, the researchers said.

The study, published recently in the journal Metabolites, shows that cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 can only produce novel coronaviruses when a metabolic pathway called the pentose phosphate pathway is activated.

The researchers from the University of Kent in the UK and Goethe-University in Germany found that the drug benfooxythiamine, an inhibitor of this metabolic pathway, suppressed reproduction of SARS-CoV-2, and infected cells did not produce coronaviruses.

“This is a breakthrough in the research of COVID-19 treatment,” said Professor Martin Michaelis from the University of Kent.

“Since resistance development is a big problem in the treatment of viral diseases, having therapies that use different targets is very important and provides further hope for developing the most effective treatments for COVID-19,” Michaelis said.

The researchers found that benfooxythiamine also increased the antiviral activity of ‘2-deoxy-D-glucose’, another drug that modifies the host cell’s metabolism to reduce virus multiplication.

This shows that pentose phosphate pathway inhibitors like benfooxythiamine are a potential new treatment option for COVID-19, both on their own and in combination with other treatments, they said.

The researchers noted that the drug’s antiviral mechanism differs from that of other potential COVID-19 drugs such as remdesivir and molnupiravir.

They noted that viruses resistant to these drugs may, therefore, be sensitive to benfooxythiamin.

“Targeting virus-induced changes in the host cell metabolism is an attractive way to interfere specifically with the virus replication process,” Professor Jindrich Cinatl from Goethe-University added.

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