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Tapeworm, pancreatitis treatments among drugs being trialled in Australia to combat Covid-19

Australian researchers are investigating new treatments for Covid-19 by repurposing existing medicines, including ones currently used to treat pancreatitis and tapeworms.

In labs across Australia, more than 20 clinical trials are underway testing various drugs.

In the University of Melbourne, researchers are testing nafamostat, used to treat pancreatitis in Japan and Korea. The study aims to find out whether the drug can bind to receptors the Covid-19 virus uses to enter human cells.

Meanwhile, in the Melbourne clinical research company Nucleus Network, researchers are testing niclosamide, a common tapeworm treatment that’s been used since the 1950s. It’s hoped that when the drug is injected it will prevent the coronavirus from invading host cells.

“I think it is a massive advantage if you can find a drug that may have some benefits that’s already been used and studied,” professor Monica Slavin of Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre told the ABC.

Slavin’s Melbourne team is also trialling whether inhaling interferon, a common cancer drug, could stop the Covid-19 virus from infecting people.

It’s thought the anti-viral medication may be able to block the virus entering cells in the nose and upper respiratory tract.

“There’s a long history of using interferon to try and prevent viral infections in the lung,” Slavin said.

But Monash University infectious diseases physician Dr James McMahon warned that just because medications worked in clinical trials or in animals, it won’t always work on humans.

The studies are also still ongoing, and not all have been peer-reviewed yet.

McMahon said the best measures against Covid-19 are still masks, social distancing and hand washing.

"The things that are effective are all the public health measures," he said.