Image of novel coronavirus. A combination of two licensed antiviral drugs, ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b, can stop the coronavirus from replicating in laboratory-grown cells, according to new research by National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists. The drugs are currently approved for hepatitis C therapy.

While they note the need for additional testing, investigators believe the drug combination could effectively treat those infected with novel coronavirus (nCoV). The NIAID researchers plan to confirm these results in a recently developed monkey model of nCoV infection.

Using cells from two species of monkey, researchers discovered that ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b individually inhibited nCoV from replicating, however the required drug concentrations exceeded the recommended dosage. By combining the two antiviral medications, an effective treatment dose was reached that fell within the recommended levels.

As of April 16, 2013, the World Health Organization reported 17 cases with 11 deaths, primarily in the Middle East. There is confirmed human-to-human transmission of nCoV in situations where people have close contact with infected individuals.