By Art Moore
The scientist who combined two widely available over-the-counter compounds that inhibited the novel coronavirus by 99% in early tests told WND he's hopeful his treatment will be available "within months."
"An FDA-approved treatment could be in sight within months if pharmaceutical companies utilize existing clinical trial resources," said Dr. David Ostrov in an email interview with WND.
Ostrov, an immunologist and associate professor in the University of Florida College of Medicine’s department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine, combined diphenhydramine, which is marketed as Benadryl, and lactoferrin, a protein in milk, as WND reported in December.
"My prediction is that antiviral drug combinations, such as diphenhydramine and lactoferrin, will provide a similar level of benefit as Regeneron monoclonal antibodies, Pfizer and Merck antivirals, at less than 1/100 the cost of those therapies," he told WND.
Ostrov said he knew he was facing an uphill battle in his effort to find a combination of cheap, safe and available drugs to combat COVID-19.
"I expected failure, but you never know until you try," he said. "My reaction was surprise."
His study, with early results showing 99% efficacy in inhibiting replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was published Nov. 20 in the journal Pathogens.
Ostrov told WND he's been in communication with people who wonder if their use of the compounds has helped prevent them from getting COVID-19.
He noted that "anecdotal stories are certainly not proof of efficacy," but many people have contacted him about diphenhydramine and lactoferrin, and their results "are difficult to ignore."
"For many people, they say everyone around them got COVID, but not them," Ostrov said.
And they ask the professor if diphenhydramine and/or lactoferrin.
"Without placebo controlled clinical trials, we will not have a definitive answer," he said. "The answer for now, though, is maybe."
Ostrov mentioned a contact who takes a daily dose of Benadryl and regularly drinks milk. She said she had been in close contact for hours with someone who was hospitalized the next day for COVID-19. But after waiting five days from the time of exposure, she tested negative for COVID.
He cautioned that people "considering their own concoction should understand that our experiments were carried out with human lactoferrin, not cow." And the lactoferrin he used was purified in a special way to enhance its antiviral properties and is not likely to be found on the shelf.
People should consult with their physician, Ostrov said, before taking any drug for a use other than its intended use.
"Even though historically there are relatively few adverse events reported for diphenhydramine and lactoferrin, it should be noted that long term use of any medication, or combination of medications, could have unexpected consequences," he said.
Ostrov said he hopes that once FDA-approved, "people may benefit from this antiviral drug combination for two-to-three month intervals during each wave of COVID infections."
Read the Q&A:
WND: I imagine there was elation in finding 99% effectiveness in inhibiting replication of the virus that has changed the world. Can you describe your reaction and your hopes for this possible treatment?
DR. OSTROV: We were aiming to find a combination of drugs that would work much better against SARS-CoV-2 when used together. I expected failure, but you never know until you try. My reaction was surprise.
My hope is that this antiviral drug combination will be shown to both prevent and treat COVID effectively (in placebo controlled clinical trials).
Since these drugs are stable at room temperature, economical, widely available and have long histories of safety, diphenhydramine and lactoferrin have the potential to inhibit replication of the coronavirus (and the emergence of new variants) on a global scale.
WND: Can you explain in layman's terms why these two compounds appear to be effective in inhibiting SARS-CoV-2?
DR. OSTROV: SARS-CoV-2 causes cells to undergo stress in a way that creates a good environment for the virus to replicate.
Diphenhydramine binds a specific protein involved in cell stress and blocks the virus from creating a good environment for replication.
Lactoferrin has antiviral activity for different reasons. Lactoferrin is thought to repel virus particles from target cells (by binding lipoproteins on cell surfaces). Lactoferrin is also thought to suppress virus replication.
WND: How did you come to find out that diphenhydramine was potentially effective against COVID-19?
DR. OSTROV: The story started before SARS, when my lab was studying drugs that bind ACE2, the molecule that turned out to be the receptor for SARS and SARS-CoV-2.
We previously found that an antihistamine (hydroxyzine) bound ACE2, and in 2020 were able to test the ability of this drug to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 in the lab. It was an "aha" moment when the data clearly showed that a common antihistamine inhibited the virus that causes COVID. Different scientists at the University of Florida College of Medicine used different isolates of SARS-CoV-2, and the results agreed with each other. An antihistamine can inhibit the virus!
We then realized that there may be similar drugs that could inhibit the virus, perhaps even over-the-counter drugs. But which drugs?
We collaborated with investigators and UCSF where they examined the medical records for more than 219,000 people tested for SARS-CoV-2. They found that usage of diphenhydramine was associated with a lower incidence of SARS-CoV-2. In other words, in this population, people were less likely to be infected with COVID if they used diphenhydramine.
Why would taking an allergy pill lead to lower risk of COVID? There could be many reasons, but is it possible that a simple allergy pill can directly inhibit the virus that causes COVID?
We did the experiments at the University of Florida College of Medicine, and the data was published in a peer reviewed journal. Diphenhydramine exhibits direct antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2. Diphenhydramine inhibits virus replication, inhibits virus shedding and inhibits host cell killing.
WND: Obviously, treatments for COVID-19 are needed now, but further research and human trials are necessary, which take time. Assuming the further trials affirm your early findings, how long might it be before such a treatment is available to the public?
DR. OSTROV: An FDA-approved treatment could be in sight within months if pharmaceutical companies utilize existing clinical trial resources.
My prediction is that antiviral drug combinations, such as diphenhydramine and lactoferrin, will provide a similar level of benefit as Regeneron monoclonal antibodies, Pfizer and Merck antivirals, at less than 1/100 the cost of those therapies.
WND: What is your caution to people who might try their own concoction, perhaps with Benadryl and lactoferrin? Could there be any harmful consequences?
DR. OSTROV: People considering their own concoction should understand that our experiments were carried out with human lactoferrin, not cow. The lactoferrin we used was purified in a special way to enhance its antiviral properties. People are not likely to find this on the shelf.
Could there be harmful consequences? People should consult with their physician before taking any drug "off-label," meaning using a drug for a use other than its intended use.
Even though historically there are relatively few adverse events reported for diphenhydramine and lactoferrin, it should be noted that long term use of any medication, or combination of medications, could have unexpected consequences.
My hope is that people may benefit from this antiviral drug combination for two-to-three month intervals during each wave of COVID infections.
WND: Are there any treatments for COVID-19 available now that you have found to be effective?
DR. OSTROV: Current treatments seem to speed up recovery, but not as dramatically as we would like. We can expect that many monoclonal antibodies used for treatment will exhibit reduced effectiveness as circulating viruses acquire more mutations, such as in omicron.
Based on our understanding of the mechanism of action, mutations in the spike protein are not expected to impact the antiviral activities of diphenhydramine and lactoferrin. This is important because it means that we may be able to inhibit the virus regardless of mutations that arise in the spike protein.