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Intracellular ABCB1 as a Possible Mechanism to Explain the Synergistic Effect of Hydroxychloroquine-Azithromycin Combination in COVID-19 Therapy

Scherrmann, AAPS J 22, 86 (2020), doi:10.1208/s12248-020-00465-w
Jun 2020  
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HCQ for COVID-19
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Proposes a new mechanism supporting the synergistic interaction between HCQ+AZ.
Scherrmann et al., 12 Jun 2020, peer-reviewed, 1 author.
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Intracellular ABCB1 as a Possible Mechanism to Explain the Synergistic Effect of Hydroxychloroquine-Azithromycin Combination in COVID-19 Therapy
Jm. M Scherrmann
The AAPS Journal, doi:10.1208/s12248-020-00465-w
The co-administration of hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin is proposed in COVID-19 therapy. We hypothesize a new mechanism supporting the synergistic interaction between these drugs. Azithromycin is a substrate of ABCB1 (P-glycoprotein) which is localized in endosomes and lysosomes with a polarized substrate transport from the cell cytosol into the vesicle interior. SARS-CoV-2 and drugs meet in these acidic organelles and both basic drugs, which are potent lysosomotropic compounds, will become protonated and trapped within these vesicles. Consequently, their intra-vesicular concentrations can attain low micromolar effective cytotoxic concentrations on SARS-CoV-2 while concomitantly increase the intra-vesicular pH up to around neutrality. This last effect inhibits lysosomal enzyme activities responsible in virus entry and replication cycle. Based on these considerations, we hypothesize that ABCB1 could be a possible enhancer by confining azithromycin more extensively than expected when the trapping is solely dependent on the passive diffusion. This additional mechanism may therefore explain the synergistic effect when azithromycin is added to hydroxychloroquine, leading to apparently more rapid virus clearance and better clinical benefit, when compared to monotherapy with hydroxychloroquine alone.
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