Approaching coronavirus disease 2019: Mechanisms of action of repurposed drugs with potential activity against SARS-CoV-2

Lucia Lisi, Pedro Miguel Lacal, Maria Luisa Barbaccia, Grazia Graziani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Citations (Scopus)


On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) a global pandemic. As of July 2020, SARS-CoV-2 has infected more than 14 million people and provoked more than 590,000 deaths, worldwide. From the beginning, a variety of pharmacological treatments has been empirically used to cope with the life-threatening complications associated with Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Thus far, only a couple of them and not consistently across reports have been shown to further decrease mortality, respect to what can be achieved with supportive care. In most cases, and due to the urgency imposed by the number and severity of the patients’ clinical conditions, the choice of treatment has been limited to repurposed drugs, approved for other indications, or investigational agents used for other viral infections often rendered available on a compassionate-use basis. The rationale for drug selection was mainly, though not exclusively, based either i) on the activity against other coronaviruses or RNA viruses in order to potentially hamper viral entry and replication in the epithelial cells of the airways, and/or ii) on the ability to modulate the excessive inflammatory reaction deriving from dysregulated host immune responses against the SARS-CoV-2. In several months, an exceptionally large number of clinical trials have been designed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of anti-COVID-19 therapies in different clinical settings (treatment or pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis) and levels of disease severity, but only few of them have been completed so far. This review focuses on the molecular mechanisms of action that have provided the scientific rationale for the empirical use and evaluation in clinical trials of structurally different and often functionally unrelated drugs during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114169-114182
Number of pages14
JournalBiochemical Pharmacology
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Antiviral agents
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Coronavirus
  • Coronavirus Infections
  • Cytokine storm
  • Cytokines
  • Drug Repositioning
  • Drug repositioning
  • Humans
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral
  • SARS-CoV-2


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