Scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore have conducted a study which has shown that montelukast- a drug used to treat asthma has the ability to prevent the replication of the covid variant within the body of the infected.
The study was published in the journal eLife. The study states that “montelukast sodium hydrate could be used as a key molecule to design potent inhibitors to help combat SARS-CoV-2 infection.” Montelukast, used to reduce inflammation caused by conditions such as asthma, hay fever and hives, has been found to be effective against COVID-19.
The study showed that the drug has the ability to reduce SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from replicating in human immune cells.
The IISc researchers found that the drug binds strongly to one end (the ‘C-terminal’) of a SARS-CoV-2 protein called Nsp1, one of the first viral proteins to spread inside human cells. This protein can bind to ribosomes, the protein-making machinery inside our immune cells, and shut down the synthesis of important proteins needed by the immune system, leaving it vulnerable.
Tanveer Hussain, assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics (MRDG), IISc and senior author of the study, explains that the mutation rate in this protein, especially the C-terminal region, is much lower than the rest. The amount of viral protein and since NSP1 is likely to remain largely unchanged in any form of emerging virus, drugs targeting this region are expected to work against all such variants.
The latest study comes in the backdrop of a huge spurt in coronavirus cases across the world, including in India, where Omicron remains the dominant figure in fresh cases.
Researchers screened more than 1,600 US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs to find drugs that strongly bind to NSP1 using computational modeling. They then shortlisted a dozen drugs, including montelukast and saquinavir, an anti-HIV drug, to understand the stability of the drug-bound protein molecule. The team then cultured human cells that specifically produced Nsp1 in the laboratory and treated them separately with montelukast and saquinavir.
They found that only montelukast was able to rescue the inhibition of protein synthesis by Nsp1.
“There are two aspects: one is affinity and the other is stability. The anti-HIV drug (saquinavir) showed good affinity, but not good stability. Montelukast, on the other hand, was found to bind strongly and strongly to NSP1, thereby increasing host cells to resume normal protein synthesis,” Tanveer Hussain, assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Reproduction, said in a statement.
The researchers also tested the drug’s effect on live viruses at the Bio-Safety Level 3 (BSL-3) facility at the Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR). “Clinicians have tried using the drug and there are reports that montelukast has reduced hospitalizations in COVID-19 patients,” says Hussain.