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Potential anti-mpox virus activity of atovaquone, mefloquine, and molnupiravir, and their potential use as treatments.

BACKGROUND: Mpox virus (MPXV) is a zoonotic orthopoxvirus and caused an outbreak in 2022. Although tecovirimat and brincidofovir are approved as anti-smallpox drugs, their effects in mpox patients have not been well documented. In this study, by a drug repurposing approach, we identified potential drug candidates for treating mpox and predicted their clinical impacts by mathematical modeling.

METHODS: We screened approved 132 drugs using an MPXV infection cell system. We quantified antiviral activities of hit drugs by measuring intracellular viral DNA and analyzed the modes of action by time-of-addition assay and electron microscopic analysis. We further predicted the efficacy of drugs under clinical concentrations by mathematical simulation and examined combination treatment.

RESULTS: Atovaquone, mefloquine, and molnupiravir exhibited anti-MPXV activity, with 50% inhibitory concentrations of 0.51-5.2 μM, which was more potent than cidofovir. Whereas mefloquine was suggested to inhibit viral entry, atovaquone and molnupiravir targeted post-entry process. Atovaquone was suggested to exert its activity through inhibiting dihydroorotate dehydrogenase. Combining atovaquone with tecovirimat enhanced the anti-MPXV effect of tecovirimat. Quantitative mathematical simulations predicted that atovaquone can promote viral clearance in patients by seven days at clinically relevant drug concentrations.

CONCLUSION: These data suggest that atovaquone would be potential candidates for treating mpox.

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