Cat Corona Virus Drug May Save Us Regarding COVID-19


Cats get a corona virus (FCoV) and that feline corona virus is in some ways similar to human SARS COV-2 or COVID-19, the novel corona virus that is causing the worldwide pandemic. In approximately 10 percent of cats their otherwise benign feline corona virus mutates inside the cat to form an immune mediated disease called feline infectious peritonitis or FIP.

FIP has always thought to have been fatal but discovered recently was a treatment using a drug that is nearly identical to Remdesivir, that’s the drug mentioned in a press conference on March 19 by U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn and President Donald Trump as promising to treat COVID-19. Remdesivir was originally created for Ebola and only had mediocre success.

Dr. Niels Pedersen

Distinguished professor Dr. Niels Pederson, legendary researcher at the University of California, Davis has been chasing a solution to FIP for many decades. A few years back he approached pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences, with a hunch about using its antiviral drug—GS-441524—to combat FIP. This compound is nearly identical Remdesivir.

In clinical trials GS-441424 proved to be undeniably successful.

Pedersen says, “Remdesivir is the form of GS-441424 that Gilead Sciences has chosen to use in humans for COVID-19 and is now in clinical trials in China, USA and several other countries. Remdesivir is what is known as a prodrug. A prodrug is altered by infected cells to yield the active ingredient, which in this case is basically GS-441524 with the addition of one phosphate group (i.e., GS-5734).”

Backing it up several steps, the non-profit Winn Feline Foundation, which funds cat health studies. has known about Remdesivir and supported Pedersen’s work. Remsdesivir was discussed at the November international symposium “Purrsuing FIP and Winning” sponsored by Winn Feline and held at the University of California, Davis.

While FIP happens as a result of the feline corona virus, it is distinctively different than the human virus, COVID-19. But while cats don’ get human corona viruses or give humans their feline virus (such as those causing the common cold), there are similarities at a cellular level.

Pedersen adds, “We chose to use GS-441424 for treatment of the coronavirus disease FIP because it had identical antiviral properties to Remdesivir and at the time was not under consideration by Gilead Sciences for use in humans. GS-441524 is also much cheaper to make than Remdesivir. Therefore, there was no apparent conflict with using one form for cats and another form for humans. However, Gilead came to believe that our cat research would interfere with their ability to get Remdesivir approved for humans and refused to grant animal rights for GS-441524.”

That refusal coupled with the desperate need around the world for the treatment of FIP, led to a Chinese black market for GS-441524.

Chinese companies began to offer compounds (presumably like GS-441524 and therefore similar to Remdesivir – but they don’t disclose exactly what their compounds are), and at least the leading company has anecdotally seen great success in treating cats with FIP around the world. And that company confirmed that they are working with the Chinese government as Gilead is in the U.S.

Will Remdesivir be the magic bullet to treat COVID-19 as GS-441524 can be for many cat with FIP? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Hahn also mentioned Chloroquine phosphate, in a class of drugs called antimalarials and amoebicides. It is has been used for many years to prevent and treat malaria. It is also used to treat amebiasis and lupus. Interestingly, Winn Feline funded two studies on mefloquine –  in hopes of helping cats – which is related to chloroquine for safety and efficacy.

Also, researchers at Louisiana State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine are working on a drug to treat COVID-19. “It’s highly likely that what we are producing will be quite protective against COVID-19,” cheers Gus Kousoulas, PhD, head of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at LSU. Kousoulas said the department’s primary focus is infectious diseases. He added they have already isolated the major genes of the COVID-19.

Kousoulas said “They are ready to be sent to the Tulane primate center as well as other sites throughout the state to be tested,” he added.

Back to cats, Pedersen and collaborators at Kansas State University, including  Dr. Yunjeong Kim,, associate professor in the department of pathobiology and diagnostics in the school’s College of Veterinary Medicine, demonstrated a similar antiviral compound they developed—known as GC376—also has success in treating the wet form of FIP. Anivive Lifescience is seeking FDA approval for this drug.

Hopefully, as this attention regarding corona viruses will ultimately create a cure for the common cold, caused by different corona viruses. And the Winn Feline Foundation president Dr. Drew Weigner says, “We hope that approved treatments for FIP will become available in the near future, and that greater efforts will be directed toward vaccination protocols, as this is the mainstay of controlling coronavirus infections in cats, and in all species.”

And no matter how all this plays out, veterinarians will no doubt be a part of the solution.

Dr. Pedersen talks about corona viruses in cats, but also corona viruses in general at the FIP Symposium: