UGA study finds gout treatment drug could help COVID-19 patients

A team of University of Georgia researchers may have found a drug that is an effective treatment for COVID-19.

The UGA study, released Friday in Nature’s Scientific Reports, found that probenecid, a federally-approved oral medication to treat gout, has broad antiviral properties that makes it a prime candidate to combat not only a SARS-CoV-2 infection, the virus that causes COVID-19, but other viruses like the flu. Probenecid has been on the market for over 40 years and has minimal side effects that include nausea, dizziness, vomiting and headaches.

“This antiviral works for all RNA respiratory viruses we tested, including SARS-CoV-2. RSV, coronavirus and flu all circulate in the same season. Bottom line is you can potentially reduce infection and disease using this one oral drug,” Ralph Tripp, the study’s lead author and longtime professor in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement. Tripp is also chief science officer of TrippBio, a pharmaceutical company where the research is in clinical development.

The researchers are investigating what dosage of probenecid could have the biggest impact fighting viruses in people and plan to start clinical trials of the medication within the year, UGA said in a news release.

Currently, only remdesivir has received federal approval for treatment of COVID-19 and it must be administered intravenously in hospitalized patients. The search for treatments has been extensive, and potentially dangerous. Some Georgia physicians have been writing prescriptions for ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug, for patients upon request for COVID-19 against the advice of the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association and Merck, its manufacturer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week.

The UGA researchers examined hamsters infected with SARS-CoV-2 and treated them with probenecid for either 24 hours before infection or 48 hours post-infection. Hamsters treated with probenecid had dramatically reduced lung virus.

“These data support the potential clinical utility of probenecid to control SARS-CoV-2 infection in humans,” the study said.

UGA has been actively researching therapeutics that can treat COVID-19 and the flu. It’s leading a federally funded effort to develop a new, more advanced flu vaccine to protect against multiple strains of the virus in a single dose.