Herb used in Ayurveda may contain a new drug against Covid-19

More than 15 months after Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, scientists are still to discover a medicine to counter the rampaging virus

Representative Image. Credit: Pixabay Photo

As the world looks for an effective medicine against SARS-CoV-2, a herb widely used in Ayurveda provides an exciting new lead.

Scientists at the National Brain Research Centre, Manesar have found that an ingredient in Mulethi (Yashthimadhu in Sanskrit) has the potential to emerge as a drug candidate against SARS-CoV-2 as it lowers the severity of the disease and brings down viral replication.

More than 15 months after Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, scientists are still to discover a medicine to counter the rampaging virus though several vaccines have been rolled out.

The doctors currently manage patients with a handful of repurposed medicines with a varying degree of efficacy.

Read | Covid-19 patients can be categorised into three groups, say scientists

With support from the Department of Biotechnology, the NBRC team last year began looking for a new therapeutic against Covid-19 in the middle of the lockdown period.

When the search was narrowed down to glycyrrhizin because of its wonderful anti-inflammatory properties, the researchers carried out a series of experiments to check its potential against SARS-CoV-2.

In the laboratory, the scientists expressed specific viral proteins in human lung epithelial cells. The viral proteins triggered inflammation in these cells, but treatment with glycyrrhizin clears the inflammation in such cells. The untreated cells succumbed to inflammation.

“By dampening cytokine storm (a severe immune reaction triggered by serious Covid-19 cases), glycyrrhizin can reduce the severity of the infection,” NBRC senior scientist Ellora Sen who led the team told DH.

Also Listen | The Lead: Coronavirus and Kidneys

Subsequently, when Sen with her fellow researchers Pruthvi Gowda, Shruti Patrick, Shanker Datt, Rajesh Joshi, and Kumar Kumawat analysed the molecule further, they found that besides inhibiting the cytokine storm, glycyrrhizin also reduces viral replication by 90%.

While Mulethi (Yashtimadhu) is widely prescribed for lung ailments, chronic fevers and respiratory tract inflammation in Ayurveda, glycyrrhizin is used in the treatment of chronic hepatitis B and C.

“Given its safety profile and tolerability, it might constitute a viable therapeutic option in patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection,” she said. The team is now looking for partners to carry forward the research into the preclinical stage.

The study has been published in Cytokine, the official journal of the International Cytokine and Interferon Society.