COVID-19: Anti-depression drug significantly inhibits coronavirus

Fluoxetine: Antidepressant could be used to fight COVID-19

Even if the corona pandemic has been going on for months, there is still no internationally approved active ingredient against the disease COVID-19 caused by the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. However, researchers from Germany are now reporting on an antidepressant that also fights coronaviruses effectively.

According to a recent announcement by the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg (JMU), a common medication for depression may also be an effective treatment for COVID-19. This is shown by a new study by researchers from Würzburg, which was recently published on the preprint server "bioRxiv".

Researchers focused on approved drugs

The new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has been spreading around the world since December 2019. To date, more than seven million people infected and over 400,000 deaths have been registered worldwide.

When treating seriously ill patients, remdesivir is still the only drug that has been shown to have a positive impact on the course of the disease.

That is why further, ideally more effective, substances are urgently sought, and researchers around the world are working intensively on this task.

The problem with this: Before new agents are used in the sick, they have to go through various stages of clinical studies, which are very time-consuming. Since this time is missing, the Würzburg scientists have chosen a different route:

"In our investigations, we focused on drugs that have already been approved and researched whether they are effective inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2," explains Professor Jochen Bodem from the Institute of Virology and Immunobiology at the JMU.

Promising results

One of her studies focused on so-called “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” (SSRIs). These form one of the most important drug groups against depression and other mental illnesses.

For example, fluoxetine was introduced into clinics in the 1970s and is a very well researched drug.

In the laboratory, the researchers have now brought human cells into contact with the active ingredient in concentrations that are usually achieved in the treatment of depression. The cells were then infected with SARS-CoV-2.

After a few days, the impact on the novel virus was checked. According to the experts, the results are promising: "Fluoxetine inhibits SARS-CoV-2 in a very low concentration," says Bodem.

Antiviral activity is not related to the serotonin reuptake receptor

However, the actual task of fluoxetine does not seem to be responsible for this - the intervention in the serotin reuptake process. This is supported by the fact that, among other things, the fact that other drugs from the SSRI group, such as paroxetine and escitalopram, did not hinder the proliferation of SARS-CoV-2 in the study.

Accordingly, the antiviral effect is not related to the serotonin reuptake receptor. Instead, fluoxetine inhibits protein expression in the virus, as studies with immunofluorescence on an antiserum obtained from patients showed.

This prevents the virus from building the building blocks it needs to multiply in the human cell.

Fluoxetine has a very special effect on SARS-CoV-2 viruses

The study also shows that fluoxetine has a very specific effect on SARS-CoV-2 viruses. The scientists were unable to observe any effects with other viruses, such as rabies virus, human respiratory syncytial virus, human herpes virus 8 or herpes simplex virus type 1.

"So there is every reason to believe that fluoxetine has a virus-specific effect, but the effect in the sick person has to be confirmed," says Professor Bodem.

Drug has been used for over 40 years

In clinical use for more than 40 years, well researched, the patent has long expired, available from various companies and also relatively cheap.

From the researchers' point of view, there is much to suggest that fluoxetine should be used in the early treatment of SARS-CoV-2-infected patients in healing trials and studies, especially since it is known that fluoxetine greatly reduces the cytokine release and thus has an additional benefit for sufferers would have. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg (JMU): Antidepressant inhibits coronavirus, (accessed: June 16, 2020), Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg (JMU)
  • Melissa Zimniak, Luisa Kirschner, Helen Hilpert, Juergen Seibel, Jochen Bodem: The serotonin reuptake inhibitor Fluoxetine inhibits SARS-CoV-2; in: bioRxiv, (published: 14.06.2020), bioRxiv

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