Widely used antimalarial drug exhibits antiviral activity against the SARS

Virologists from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium report that chloroquine, a widely used antimalarial drug, exhibits antiviral activity against the SARS coronavirus. Chloroquine is an inexpensive and safe drug 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, causing 774 fatalities. Scientists discovered that SARS was caused by a virus belonging to the coronavirus family.

There is currently 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 laboratory. However, these drugs are very expensive and have many side effects.

Today, the SARS research team led by Professor Marc Van Ranst of K.U.Leuven’s Rega Institute for Medical Research 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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