Can Azithromycin, an Old Drug Discovered in Croatia Help Against COVID-19?

Total Croatia News

March 19, 2020 – Azithromycin is an antibiotic drug, discovered by the scientists working for Pliva Pharmaceutical company in 1980. 40 years later there are some indications it might be very useful in a fight against the current health crisis, the Covid-19 virus.

Yesterday, while scrolling aimlessly through my Twitter feed, I stumbled upon a tweet by a scientist I follow:

I can’t say I was shocked by this news, but I was intrigued. Azithromycin is a macrolide antibiotic discovered by a team of scientists in Zagreb, Pliva research department: Gabrijela Kobrehel, Gorjana Radobolja-Lazarevski, and Zrinka Tamburašev, led by Slobodan Đokić, back in 1980. It was a blockbuster drug, for which Pliva had a licensing agreement with the American pharma giant, Pfizer. Pfizer sold it in Western Europe and the US, while Pliva produced it and sold it in Eastern Europe. The drug’s financial success was huge and had a large impact on the pharmaceutical industry in Croatia.

Azithromycin is an antibiotic, so it’s obvious that its main purpose is to help our bodies fight bacterial infections. Its anti-inflammatory properties have been known and researched for a long time., again mostly by the scientists in the Pliva research institute (full disclosure: I used to be one of those scientists a long time ago). And these days we seem to understand that the Covid-19 virus wrecks havoc with our immune system, which leads to the most serious complications of the disease. So it’s no wonder scientists tested to see if azithromycin would be effective in helping human bodies fight against the virus, and one of the first results published combined azithromycin with the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. US President Trump mentioned hydroxychloroquine today as one of the drugs which will immediately become available to doctors treating COVID-19 patients, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone that his own Government agency, FDA, responded to that by urging caution.

We’ll just have to wait and see if the drug originally created in Zagreb will be able to help fight the pandemic, in combination with some other drugs or alone.


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