Researchers have said that an HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) drug could stop many coronavirus diseases, including the SARS-CoV-2 variants when given to infected cells at the right concentration.

The researchers have previously shown that a booster drug called — “cobicistat”, which is normally used to reinforce the effect of anti-HIV drugs, could have antiviral properties against a SARS-CoV-2 variant circulating in Europe in early 2020.

In the study, published in the journal Antiviral Research, the researchers investigated whether the anti-SARS-CoV-2 properties of cobicistat were maintained against the key variants of concern (VOCs) of SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses, including Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

With a death rate of over 30 percent, MERS-CoV circulates throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia without a vaccine or specific treatment.

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The researchers also compared cobicistat’s effects to those of ritonavir, a structurally similar molecule that is also one of the components of Paxlovid, the current gold standard for antiviral treatment of SARS-CoV-2.

Using automated image analysis for screening and parallel comparison of the anti-coronavirus effects of cobicistat and ritonavir, the researchers discovered that cobicistat and ritonavir both act against all eight VOCs of SARS-CoV-2 tested as well as other human coronaviruses, including MERS-CoV.

“Our study shows that the CYP3A inhibitors ritonavir and, to a higher extent, cobicistat can be repurposed as broadly effective anti-coronavirus agents at concentrations potentially achievable in vivo by adjusting currently approved dosing regimens,” the researchers said.

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The findings suggested that cobicistat is more effective than ritonavir. Both drugs demonstrated anti-coronavirus activity in vitro at well-tolerated doses that were higher than those currently used for anti-HIV drug booster activity and in Paxlovid.

Cobicistat and ritonavir both inhibited coronavirus replication when used at these higher doses, both alone and in combination with other drugs.