Cholesterol Drug in Use Since 1975 Could Prevent COVID-19 Lung Damage, Study Shows

JERUSALEM — Researchers believe a well-established drug could prevent lung damage in COVID-19 patients, potentially reducing the severity and mortality rate of the illness.

A study started by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in July has since demonstrated that the coronavirus inhibits the effective breakdown of fat in lungs, resulting in a buildup that can negatively impact patients. Initial data presented at the recent SPARK Conference on Generic Drug Repurposing for COVID-19 showed that 1,500 Israel-based coronavirus patients recovered quickly after taking a regimen of fibrates, or drugs designed to lower triglycerides (fats) in the blood.

“We showed that the human lungs responded to the SARS-CoV-2 virus by completely changing their metabolism, causing a major buildup of fats in lung cells. Our findings show that this unhealthy fat buildup is a critical factor in COVID-19 patients’ deterioration,” Professor Yaakov Nahmias, the school’s Director of the Center for Bioengineering, said in a Dec. 22 news release.

A family member wearing protective equipment holds the hand of a patient in a COVID-19 unit as medical personnel treat the patient at Hilel Yaffe Medical Center on December 27, 2020 in Hadera, Israel. The country’s third national lockdown starts today and will last at least two weeks, depending on the rate of new covid-19 infections. (Amir Levy/Getty Images)


“Patients taking fibrates that work directly to breakdown fats recovered fast from the disease, while those taking medications that build fats like thiazolidinediones, showed greater lung damage and mortality,” he said.

Clinical studies for fenofibrate (Tricor), an FDA-approved drug that has been on the market since 1975, are set to begin soon among coronavirus patients at Barzilai Medical in southern Israel, a country that has reported more than 400,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 3,300 related deaths, to determine whether fibrates can turn the disease into a manageable form of a respiratory cold. Centers in the United States, South America and Europe are also working to corroborate the promising findings.

“Even as we see the introduction of numerous vaccines intended to reduce the transmission of the disease and protect vulnerable populations, this drug can help the direct treatment of the virus and reduce its severity and mortality,” Professor Shlomo Maayan, Director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Barzilai Medical, said. “We hope to see the first results of the clinical phase of this study in the coming months.”

If proven to be an effective treatment, fenofibrate would be just one of many inexpensive drugs already available that could help reduce the effects of COVID-19.

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(Edited by Carlin Becker and David Martosko)

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