Drug Combination Tested in Hamsters 'Effectively Suppresses' COVID Infection: Researchers

Researchers in Norway say they are hopeful a new drug combination may be effective in battling SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The concoction has thus far only been tested in hamsters and cell cultures and "does not necessarily mean that the combination works in humans," researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NUST) Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine (IKOM) said in a September 30 news release. However, "it is a good sign," they wrote.

According to IKOM Professor Denis Kainov, the combination of nafamostat and Pegasys "effectively suppresses the infection." The combination is believed to be most effective in low doses, which present advantages such as "fewer adverse events and improved outcomes for patients," IKOM doctoral research fellow Aleksandr Ianevski said in the release.

COVID sample vials
Researchers in Norway said they are hopeful a new drug combination could be effective in the treatment of COVID-19. Above, COVID-19 sample vials are shown during preparation for isolation and extraction at the Genview Diagnosis lab on August 13, 2021, in Houston, Texas. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The researchers identified nafamostat as a drug that is already being tested in places like Japan for its use in treating COVID-19 infections. Pegasys is an antiviral medication often used in the treatment of chronic cases of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Of the two, nafamostat is the more affordable drug, the researchers wrote. Even so, they said the nafamostat-Pegasys combination would be "effective, easy to distribute and easy to obtain" if the concoction were to be approved in the future for the treatment of COVID-19 and other coronavirus infections.

"We believe further development of combination of these two prescription drugs can lead to practical therapeutic options against many viruses for which replication depends on [the human enzyme] TMPRSS2, including influenza viruses and other coronaviruses," the researchers wrote in their report. An IKOM professor identified TMPRSS2 in the news release as a factor in human cells that "plays a critical role in viral replication."

Early tests in animals and cell cultures shows two available drugs can suppress infection by SARS-CoV-2 virus https://t.co/iJtlL1Tl8Z

— NTNU Klinisk og Molekylær Medisin (@NTNUikom) October 1, 2021

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved remdesivir, also known as Veklury, last October for the use in the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients ages 12 and older. The agency recommended it only be used "in a hospital or a healthcare setting." A handful of other treatments have also received emergency use authorization from the FDA throughout the pandemic.

After the FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccines last December, health officials have encouraged Americans to get vaccinated and have said doing so is the most effective way individuals can protect themselves against the virus. Even so, vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. and delayed vaccination rollouts in other countries have resulted in continued hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients as the pandemic continues. More than 43 million confirmed infections have been reported in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, according to data the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated this week.

The researchers in Norway are hopeful their proposed drug concoction could help patients during the current pandemic and when the world faces virus outbreaks moving forward.

"Our study may provide a proactive solution for the ongoing pandemic and potential future coronavirus outbreaks, which is still urgently required in many parts of the world," the researchers wrote.

Newsweek reached out to the CDC for comment but did not hear back before publication.