U of A researcher encouraging study of anti-inflammatory drugs to treat effects of COVID-19

Over-the-counter medications like aspirin could offer a safer way to treat hyperinflammation brought on by the coronavirus, according to Ayman El-Kadi, a professor in the faculty of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences.

The pharmacologist at the University of Alberta is pushing for a trial studying the efficacy of such medications in preventing COVID-19 deaths.

There are three stages of COVID-19, El-Kadi explained. The first stage is the infection, followed by stage two, which generally includes shortness of breath and lower oxygen saturation. The third stage is hyperinflammation, which can lead to a heightened risk of organ failure, and in some cases death.

The expectation is that anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, could keep COVID-19 patients from entering stage three. El-Kadi said it can also assist in preventing blood clotting.

“Our idea is to either prevent the molecules that promote inflammation, or increase molecules that have an anti-inflammatory effect," he told CTV News Edmonton.

“This medication in particular, we’ve found it very useful for cardiac disease. It can treat other diseases. So this medication is very safe, it’s clinically approved, and has minimal side effects.”

'WE CAN POTENTIALLY REPURPOSE EXISTING DRUGS'

El-Kadi told CTV News Edmonton those most vulnerable to hyperinflammation include men, people over the age of 60, and individuals with metabolic disorders.

The added benefit of using a medication that is already readily available is that it doesn’t have to go through the approval process, which can take several years, El-Kadi added.

“Rather than developing new compounds to treat COVID-19, which can be very costly, we can potentially repurpose existing drugs and use them to reduce or prevent the inflammation that is the cause of mortality.”

According to El-Kadi, other common medications that could possibly be repurposed include fenofibrate, fluconazole, isoniazid, resveratrol and 2-methoxyestradiol.

However, while anti-inflammatory drugs can be helpful when hyperinflammation takes over, El-Kadi explained they’re not recommend for early use in a COVID-19 infection, as it can interfere with the body’s ability to fight the disease.

“We’re not saying this should be the only or a sole treatment. It can be an addition to the existing treatment.”

El-Kadi was also part of a team from the U of A that worked to develop a detection kit for the SARS virus in 2003, a coronavirus-caused illness.

The continued research is being funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.