Repurposing psychotropic drugs to treat viral disorders. A review.

Key Messages

This review examines the effectiveness of existing psychotropic drugs (including antidepressants) against viruses which are known to cause epidemics.

Out of 100 psychotropic drugs examined, 37 were found to possess antiviral activities.

Fluvoxamine’s reported effectiveness against SARS-CoV2, Ebola virus, and the Marburg virus are discussed.

ASSAY and Drug Development Technologies

Publication Date: August 10, 2021
Peer Reviewed: Yes
Publication Type: Review/Commentary/Letter

Repurposing Psychotropic Agents for Viral Disorders: Beyond Covid

Shea R. Golden, Donald L. Rosenstein, Tom Belhorn, Julie Blatt


Recent reports have highlighted the possible role of the antipsychotic chlorpromazine and the antidepressant fluvoxamine as anti-coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) agents. The objective of this narrative review is to explore what is known about the activity of psychotropic medications against viruses in addition to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). PubMed was queried for “drug repurposing, antiviral activity,” and for “antiviral activity” with “psychotropic drugs” and individual agents, through November 2020. Of more than 100 psychotropic agents, 37 drugs, including 27 with a history of pediatric use were identified, which had been studied in the preclinical setting and found to have activity against viruses which are human pathogens. Effects were evaluated by type of virus and by category of psychotropic agent. Activity was identified both against viruses known to cause epidemics such as SARS-CoV-2 and Ebola and against those that are the cause of rare disorders such as Human Papillomatosis Virus-related respiratory papillomatosis. Individual drugs and classes of psychotropics often had activity against multiple viruses, with promiscuity explained by shared viral or cellular targets. Safety profiles of psychotropics may be more tolerable in this context than when they are used long-term in the setting of psychiatric illness. Nonetheless, translation of in vitro results to the clinical arena has been slow. Psychotropic medications as a class deserve further study, including in clinical trials for repurposing as antiviral drugs for children and adults.