Editor-in-Chief: Edward Meinert, MA (Oxon), MSc, MBA, MPA, PhD, CEng, FBCS, EUR ING
Approximately 80% of those infected with COVID-19 are immune. They are asymptomatic unknown carriers who can still infect those with whom they come into contact. Understanding what makes them immune could inform public health policies as to who needs to be protected and why, and possibly lead to a novel treatment for those who cannot, or will not, be vaccinated once a vaccine is available.
Real-world drug repurposing—the immediate “off-label” prescribing of drugs to address urgent clinical needs—is an indispensable strategy gaining rapid traction in the current COVID-19 crisis. Although off-label prescribing (ie, for a nonapproved indication) is legal in most countries, it tends to shift the burden of liability and cost to physicians and patients, respectively. Nevertheless, in urgent public health crises, it is often the only realistic source of a meaningful potential solution. To be considered for real-world repurposing, drug candidates should ideally have a track record of safety, affordability, and wide accessibility. Although thousands of such drugs are already available, the absence of a central repository of off-label uses presents a barrier to the immediate identification and selection of the safest, potentially useful interventions. Using the current COVID-19 pandemic as an example, we provide a glimpse at the extensive literature that supports the rationale behind six generic drugs, in four classes, all of which are affordable, supported by decades of safety data, and pleiotropically target the underlying pathophysiology that makes COVID-19 so dangerous. Having previously fast-tracked this paper to publication in summary form, we now expand on why cimetidine/famotidine (histamine type-2 receptor antagonists), dipyridamole (antiplatelet agent), fenofibrate/bezafibrate (cholesterol/triglyceride-lowering agents), and sildenafil (phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor) are worth considering for patients with COVID-19 based on their antiviral, anti-inflammatory, renoprotective, cardioprotective, and anticoagulation properties. These examples also reveal the unlimited opportunity to future-proof public health by proactively mining, synthesizing, and cataloging the off-label treatment opportunities of thousands of safe, well-established, and affordable generic drugs.