Discovery of Antiviral Activity of an Old Antimalarial Drug Against SARS Coronavirus Infection

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Virologists from the University of Leuven in Belgium report that chloroquine, a widely used antimalarial drug, has antiviral activity against the SARS virus. Chloroquine is an inexpensive and safe drug that is available worldwide.

SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is a respiratory illness which was first recognized in the winter of 2002 in China. By the end of June 2003, the disease had affected over 8096 persons in 30 countries across five continents with 774 fatalities.

At the moment, there is no effective and proven antiviral treatment for SARS. Standard antivirals (such as ribavirin) do not appear to alter the ultimate outcome of the disease. Recently, antiviral drugs commonly used to treat AIDS (nelfinavir, lopinavir/ritonavir) were shown to inhibit the SARS virus in the test tube. However, these drugs are very expensive, are not widely available, and have a lot of side effects.

Today, the SARS-research team of professor Marc Van Ranst at the Rega Institute for Medical Research at the University of Leuven in Belgium report that chloroquine, a known antimalarial drug, is active against the SARS coronavirus in laboratory experiments. Chloroquine has been prescribed since the 1940s to travellers to malaria-endemic areas for the prevention and treatment of malaria. It is an inexpensive drug with an excellent safety record. A major advantage is that chloroquine is widely available, also in developing countries. When SARS re-emerges, chloroquine could be of great importance as preventive medication for people living in or travelling to SARS-affected areas, and as an antiviral treatment for SARS-patients.

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Marc Van Ranst
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