A drug used in Australia to treat blood cancer might be a powerful treatment for COVID-19, new research suggests.

The drug, plitidepsin – also known as aplidin – acts against a protein in cells the virus uses to replicate. In test tube experiments with human lung cells, plitidepsin was 27.5-fold more potent than Gilead Sciences’s remdesivir at inhibiting the virus, researchers reported on Monday in Science.

In mice with COVID-19, the drug produced a 99% reduction of viral loads in the lungs and reduced inflammation. Researchers have begun testing the drug in humans with COVID-19 and are working with regulatory agencies on plans for larger trials.

Rather than targeting a protein in the virus, as many drugs do, plitidepsin targets a protein in patients’ cells. This means that if the drug proves successful in humans, the virus could not easily gain resistance through mutation.

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