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Researchers have identified a potential new treatment that suppresses the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

In order to multiply, all viruses, including coronaviruses, infect cells and reprogramme them to produce novel viruses. The research revealed that cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 can only produce novel coronaviruses when their metabolic pentose phosphate pathway is activated.

When applying the drug benfooxythiamine, an inhibitor of this pathway, SARS-CoV-2 replication was suppressed and infected cells did not produce coronaviruses, said the researchers.

The research from the University of Kent’s School of Biosciences, UK, and the Institute of Medical Virology at GoetheUniversity, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, found the drug also increased the antiviral activity of ‘2-deoxy-D-glucose’, a drug which 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, said the authors.

Additionally, benfooxythiamin’s antiviral mechanism differs from that of other Covid-19 drugs, such as remdesivir and molnupiravir. Therefore, viruses resistant to these may be sensitive to benfooxythiamin. Prof Martin Michaelis, University of Kent, said: “This is a breakthrough in the research of Covid-19 treatment.

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.” Prof Jindrich Cinatl, GoetheUniversity Frankfurt, added: “Targeting virus-induced changes in the host cell metabolism is an attractive way to interfere specifically with the virus replication process.” The study, ‘Targeting the pentose phosphate pathway for SARS-CoV-2 therapy’, is published in the scientific journal Metabolites.