Beta-blockers could be used as a potential treatment for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to a study by Italian and Australian researchers published in Frontiers in Immunology.

In the study, a cancer researcher in Adelaide at the University of South Australia worked with a team in Naples, Italy, and observed in animal models that the beta-blocker propranolol can suppress the spread of cancer in the lung. This was significant in relation to COVID-19 because the inflammatory profile of cancer is similar to that of the virus.

Nirmal Robinson, PhD, head of the Cellular-Stress and Immune Response Laboratory at the Centre for Cancer Biology, explained in a press release that the beta-blocker propranolol is often used in the treatment of heart conditions, anxiety, and migraine. However, clinical trials have more recently found that propranolol may also be effective in treating other conditions as well, such as cancer and COVID-19.

"Patients with COVID-19 suffer from many abnormalities, including inflammation, because the SARS-CoV-2 virus disrupts the body's immune system. Beta-2 blockers could potentially reduce this inflammation and help rebalance the immune system," Robinson said in the press release.

Beta-blockers such as propranolol work in the body by temporarily blocking or reducing the body’s natural “fight-or-flight” stress response. This then allows for reduced stress in certain parts of the body, such as the heart and blood vessels in the brain.

Additionally, beta-blockers have also been found to potentially be beneficial in treating autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

"SARS-Cov-2 enters the human cells through the protein ACE2, infecting the lower respiratory tract, causing profound inflammation and multi-organ failure. Patients with comorbidities, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, are at much higher risk," Robinson said.

For some more serious COVID-19 cases, inflammation suppressors such as tocilizumab and ruxolitinib have already been used as a treatment. The immunosuppressive drug tocilizumab is used to treat arthritis, whereas ruxolitinib is used to treat myelofibrosis, a rare bone marrow blood cancer.

"We believe the beta-2-adrenergic pathway should be more deeply investigated as a possible target to reduce the inflammatory symptoms related to COVID-19," Robinson said in the press release. “The next step is to perform clinical trials to explore an alternative therapy to treat COVID-19, based on the lessons we have learned from cancer.”

REFERENCE
Cancer treatment could be replicated for COVID-19. Adelaide, Australia: University of South Australia; November 2, 2020. eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-11/uosa-ctc110220.php. Accessed November 30, 2020.