Researchers reported Monday in the journal Science that a drug developed to fight multiple myeloma has proved 27.5 times more effective at treating COVID-19 than remdesivir in laboratory studies with infected human lung and kidney cells. The drug, Aplidin or Plitidepsin, was also effective at fighting COVID-19 in lab mice. Aplidin was developed in Spain from a tubular, plantlike marine animal called a sea squirt. It has gone through a Phase II trial against COVID-19 and is awaiting a Phase III trial.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, started exploring Aplidin's use as a treatment for COVID-19 in March. Instead of looking through databases of existing drugs to find one that targeted the virus, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, the UC San Francisco team sought out drugs that would protect key human proteins from being hijacked by the coronavirus. Experts not involved in the study said the research was promising but needed confirmation in human trials.
Effective treatments will be crucial for keeping down the death toll as new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus emerge and spread. The approved COVID-19 vaccines appear slightly less effective against the new strains, and scientists have yet to show that vaccinated people stop transmitting the coronavirus. A second study, not yet published or peer-reviewed, suggests that Aplidin is equally effective against one of the new strains that had spread throughout Britain.
"Work on treatments has been ongoing since the outbreak began and we have seen the benefits," Chris Beyrer, professor of public health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Journal Sentinel. "Survival is actually better than it was in March, April, May."