Z-Pak, also known as azithromycin or Zithromax, could be a critical tool in preventing and treating COVID-19 coronavirus, according to Professor Michael P. Lisanti, MD-PhD and Chair of Translational Medicine at Salford University in the UK. I recently spoke with Professor Lisanti to unpack his hypothesis and call for immediate clinical trials of Z-pak and other extremely inexpensive, generic antibiotics for COVID-19 patients.
Watch my detailed interview with Dr. Michael Lisanti on antibiotics for COVID-19 and cancer here:
Individuals may have heard of Professor Lisanti's work as it relates to groundbreaking experiments targeting cancer stem cells and senescent cells—chronic disease-related cells created by aging. With over 90,000 citations and over 563 published papers, Professor Lisanti is one of the world's most cited researchers—dead or alive—according to Google Scholar.
New drugs cost a billion dollars and 10-15 years to make it through the FDA approval process. This regulatory hurdle precludes natural substances that cannot be patented from being properly researched and tested for illnesses because companies cannot afford the cost to prove the efficacy of something that any organization would be able to sell afterwards. This top-down monopoly approach to medicine can leave the world on its heels—not enough clinical trials on natural substances and patent-dependent, new FDA-d drugs and vaccines years away—during a pandemic like the one we are in now.
Professor Lisanti has specialized in identifying FDA-approved generic antibiotics like Z-pak and doxycycline that are extremely effective in killing senescent cells at the heart of aging-related diseases.
As the world is painfully aware, COVID-19 coronavirus is particularly dangerous for the elderly or those with aging-related senescent illnesses like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. As Professor Lisanti said in a statement on his new paper in the journal Aging, “If you look at the host receptors of COVID-19, they are related to senescence. Two proteins have been proposed to be the cellular receptors of COVID-19: one is CD26 – a marker of senescence, and the other, ACE-2, is also associated with senescence. So, older people would be predicted to be more susceptible to COVID-19, exactly as is observed clinically in patients. This could increase their probability of infection, and would explain the increased fatality of COVID-19 infection in older patients. All of this could be related to advanced chronological age and senescent cells.”
Lisanti's laboratory has previously demonstrated that Z-pak selectively removes 97% of senescent cells. Without those cells acting as host receptors, it may be harder for COVID-19 to take root in the body and cause serious damage.
Lisanti's lab goes on, “Clinically, it appears what is leading to fatalities in older [COVID-19] patients is the very strong inflammatory reaction and the resulting fibrosis. Azithromycin inhibits inflammation-induced fibrosis, by targeting and removing senescent cells. The cost would be minimal, as the drug is off-patent, widely available and considered safe.”
Z-pak has made headlines after doctors around the world such as the widely publicized French clinic trials and New York and New Jersey physicians have found promising results on the front-lines of coronavirus using it in combination with another generic drug hydroxychloroquine. President Trump publicly championed the combination as a potential “game-changer” which has created a knee-jerk politically-charged push-back from media outlets. Some have dismissed the notion that an antibiotic like azithromycin could be effective against a virus. Antibiotics treat bacteria not viruses, the common refrain goes.
But Lisanti's understanding of the medical literature is compelling. “Azithromycin is known to stop the production of cytokines, a torrent of inflammatory mediators that trigger life-threatening lung inflammation in coronavirus patients. Azithromycin has also been shown to block the production of other viruses, such as the Zika and Ebola viruses.”
Other FDA-approved generic antibiotics such as doxycycline (which costs around 10 cents per dose) that target senescent cells could also be fruitful to study in clinical trials. Indeed, some doctors are already implementing doxycycline into their protocol. Doxycycline has demonstrated the ability to prevent protein synthesis and IL-6 levels associated with viruses.
America's greatest moments happen when individuals have the courage to step up and challenge groupthink-confined consensus to solve problems. We need medical groups, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs to support and develop clinical trials using Z-pak and doxycycline to investigate treatment and prevention of COVID-19. If Z-pak or doxycycline alone or in combination can be clinically shown to fight coronavirus, it may be an easier protocol to scale since these antibiotics are extremely inexpensive and are some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world today.
For our historic fight with COVID-19, we must take action in pursuing clinical trials for these potentially revolutionary antibiotic therapies right under our noses.