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(WJW) — A study recently found that a drug meant to treat high cholesterol also cuts COVID infection by 70 percent and reduces its spread from one person to another.

The research team, led by the University of Birmingham and Keele University in the UK and the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Italy, tested the oral drug fenofibrate and its active form, fenofibric acid, against SARS-COV-2 and found it reduced infection in human cells, according to a press release.

Fenofibrate, which is approved for use by most countries in the world including the US Food and Drug Administration and the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, is currently used to treat conditions such as high levels of cholesterol and abnormal levels of fatty substances, or lipids, in the blood.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, infects the host through an interaction between the Spike protein on the surface of the virus and the ACE2 receptor protein on host cells. 

In response to the global pandemic, the team began testing a panel of already licensed drugs, including fenofibrate, to find out if any of them disrupt ACE2 and Spike interactions, according to the release.  

After finding that fenofibrate successfully disrupted the interactions, they then tested the drug’s impact on human cells infected with the original strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus isolated in 2020. 

According to the release, they found fenofibrate reduced infection by up to 70 percent. 

Co-author Dr Elisa Vicenzi, of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, said: “Our data indicates that fenofibrate may have the potential to reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and also virus spread. Given that fenofibrate is an oral drug which is very cheap and available worldwide, together with its extensive history of clinical use and its good safety profile, our data has global implications – especially in low-middle income countries and in those individuals for whom vaccines are not recommended or suitable such as children, those with hyper-immune disorders and those using immune-suppressants.”

The release also says that additional, unpublished data shows that fenofibrate is equally effective against the newer variants of SARS-CoV-2 including the alpha and beta variants. Research is ongoing into its reduction on delta variant infections.

The team is now calling for clinical trials to test the drug in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.