SINGAPORE, April 7 — An international research collaboration involving researchers from Singapore and the United States has found that a widely available and inexpensive drug used for cancer treatment could potentially be used in the treatment of COVID-19.

In pre-clinical tests, the team reported that the chemotherapeutic drug, Topotecan, reduces the morbidity and mortality of SARS-CoV-2 infection by inhibiting the expression of inflammatory genes in the lungs of laboratory models of COVID-19.

The findings from the study, published online in the scientific journal Cell on March 30, 2021, have potential implications for COVID-19 treatment in humans.

“A key finding from this study is that the suppression of SARS-CoV-2-induced inflammation by Topotecan occurs at doses lower than that typically used in cancer treatment,” said the co-author of the study, Dr  Anand Jeyasekharan, in a statement today.

The lead author of the Cell paper is Dr Jessica Sook Yuin Ho, a Singaporean postdoctoral researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine. This international research collaboration involves researchers from NCIS and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States of America.

Dr Jeyasekharan is a Consultant and Assistant Director of Research (Medical Oncology) at the Department of Haematology-Oncology, the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS).

“Topotecan has been used in oncology for over 25 years, with a well-understood safety profile in humans, and importantly is both inexpensive and globally available. This research is therefore timely given the lack of universal access to vaccines,” he said.

He said the safety and efficacy of this treatment strategy in humans will soon be evaluated at clinical sites around the world.

Dr Jeyasekharan and the NCIS team in Singapore have already secured a research grant to conduct a Phase 1 clinical trial of Topotecan on COVID-19 patients.

It is supported by the Singapore Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council and the National Research Foundation under the COVID-19 Research Fund.

He said the aim of the study is to establish the lowest dose of Topotecan that can safely reduce COVID-19 inflammatory markers in patients.

“Continuing our theme of globally applicable research, we have established a collaboration with the department of medical oncology at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, to take this trial forward,” Dr Jeyasekharan shared.

Dr Jeyasekharan noted that repurposing of existing drugs represents a valuable global strategy for treating COVID-19.

“However, only a few that show pre-clinical promise have gone on to be efficacious in patients,” he said.

Topotecan, he said, is an attractive candidate given that it is safe and inexpensive with generic formulations existing throughout the world.


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