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Clofazimine Shows Promise for At-Home COVID-19 Treatment

A Phase 2 study evaluating the therapy could begin immediately based on the findings.

A recent study published in the journal Nature has found that clofazimine, a therapy used to treat leprosy, exhibits antiviral effects against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and prevents the inflammatory response seen in more severe forms of COVID-19. The study was conducted by investigators from the Sanford Medical Discovery Institute and the University of Hong Kong.

The therapy, which is already approved by the FDA and is included on the World Health Organizations (WHO) list of essential medicines, holds promise for a potential at-home treatment for COVID-19.

"Clofazimine is an ideal candidate for a COVID-19 treatment,” Sumit Chanda, a professor and the director of the Immunity and Pathogenesis Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys said. “It is safe, affordable, easy to make, taken as a pill and can be made globally available.”

Investigators behind the study identified clofazimine by screening for known drugs that have the ability to block the replication of SARS-CoV-2. They then tested the therapy in hamsters that were infected with COVID-19.

Findings showed that clofazimine lowered the amount of viral levels in the lungs as well as reducing the damage and preventing the cytokine storm that is associated with COVID-19. Additional findings demonstrated that the therapy also had a similar impact when given prophylactically. It also worked synergistically with remdesivir, which suggests an opportunity to stretch the availability of the therapy.

"The animals that received clofazimine had less lung damage and lower viral load, especially when receiving the drug before infection," Ren Sun, a co-senior author on the study said. "Besides inhibiting the virus, there are indications that the drug also regulates the host response to the virus, which provides better control of the infection and inflammation."

The study found that clofazimine worked by blocking the SARS-Cov-2 virus from entering cells and disrupting their RNA replication. It was also able to reduce the replication of MERS-CoV, the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in human lung tissue.

"Potentially most importantly, clofazimine appears to have pan-coronavirus activity, indicating it could be an important weapon against future pandemics," Kwok-Yung Yuen, a co-senior author on the study said. "Our study suggests that we should consider creating a stockpile of ready-made clofazimine that could be deployed immediately if another novel coronavirus emerges."