Before humans were dealing with Covid-19, our cats were succumbing to their own deadly coronavirus. A different coronavirus that causes the disease feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) kills 700,000 cats per year. After an infection is confirmed, death is almost certain.
Like the novel coronavirus in humans, there are no FDA-approved cures for FIP. However, new evidence is suggesting that the drugs that can fight one may help us contain the other.
A drug that combats the cat coronavirus has shown promise against SARS-CoV-2. In a study published last week in Nature Communications, the drug stopped the coronavirus from replicating by targeting a key part of its machinery.
The study technically focuses on a drug called GC373 and a prodrug called GC376, which is GC373 with a compound added to make it soluble. Researchers found that both drugs inhibited SARS-CoV-2 in cell culture experiments.
Historically, GC376 has been tested in cats, where it has shown benefits. In a 2016 study, cats with FIP who got the drug recovered after 20 days (they would have died otherwise, the paper suggests). The manufacturer of GC376, the biopharmaceutical company ANVIVE, reports that the drug is in the “mid-stage” of being of approved as FIP treatment.
However, the drug has not been FDA-approved – even for cats. It hasn’t been tested in humans against SARS-CoV-2 either.
Joanne Lemieux is a professor of biochemistry and the study’s lead author. She tells Inverse that because the drug has been tested in cats, it’s more likely to move quickly through the testing process.
Repurposing a cat drug may sound outlandish, but scientists have been looking for drugs that already exist to treat coronavirus.
If they work, these drugs could reach patients far quicker than a drug no one has invented yet. This cat drug isn’t far along the path, but Lemieux says that her group has partnered with ANVIVE to pursue FDA approval for the drug in humans, not just cats.
“For a drug to move forward in clinical trials, testing needs to be conducted in animals to determine safety and dosage. But this has already been completed,” Lemieux tells Inverse. “Since this drug has already been tested in cats, FDA approval may be faster.”