The COVID-19 coronavirus is currently spreading around the globe with limited treatment options available. This article presents the rationale for potentially using old drugs (emetine, other ipecac alkaloids or analogues) that have been used to treat amoebiasis in the treatment of COVID-19. Emetine had amongst the lowest reported half-maximal effective concentration (EC50
) from over 290 agents screened for the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronaviruses. While EC50
concentrations of emetine are achievable in the blood, studies show that concentrations of emetine can be almost 300 times higher in the lungs. Furthermore, based on the relative EC50
s of emetine towards the coronaviruses compared with Entamoeba histolytica
, emetine could be much more effective as an anti-coronavirus agent than it is against amoebiasis. This paper also discusses the known side effects of emetine and related compounds, how those side effects can be managed, and the optimal method of administration for the potential treatment of COVID-19. Given the serious and immediate threat that the COVID-19 coronavirus poses, our long history with emetine and the likely ability of emetine to reach therapeutic concentrations within the lungs, ipecac, emetine, and other analogues should be considered as potential treatment options, especially if in vitro studies confirm viral sensitivity.
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