Inhibition of the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in human cells by the FDA-approved drug chlorpromazine

Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2021 Mar;57(3):106274. doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2020.106274. Epub 2020 Dec 30.


Introduction: Urgent action is needed to fight the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic by reducing the number of infected cases, contagiousness and severity. Chlorpromazine (CPZ), an antipsychotic from the phenothiazine group, is known to inhibit clathrin-mediated endocytosis and has antiviral activity against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-1 (SARS-CoV-1) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. The aim of this in-vitro study was to test CPZ against SARS-CoV-2 in monkey and human cells.

Materials and methods: Monkey VeroE6 cells and human alveolar basal epithelial A549-ACE2 cells were infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the presence of various concentrations of CPZ. Supernatants were harvested at day 2 and analysed by quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Cell viability was assessed in non-infected cells.

Results: CPZ was found to have antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 in monkey VeroE6 cells, with a half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) of 8.2 µM, half maximal cytotoxic concentration (CC50) of 13.5 µM, and selectivity index (SI) of 1.65. In human A549-ACE2 cells, CPZ was also found to have anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity, with IC50 of 11.3 µM, CC50 of 23.1 µM and SI of 2.04.

Discussion: Although the measured SI values are low, the IC50 values measured in vitro may translate to CPZ dosages used in routine clinical practice because of the high biodistribution of CPZ in lungs and saliva. Also, the distribution of CPZ in brain could be of interest for treating or preventing neurological and psychiatric forms of COVID-19.

Conclusions: These preclinical findings support clinical investigation of the repurposing of CPZ, a drug with mild side effects, in the treatment of patients with COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; Chlorpromazine; Human cells; Repurposing of molecules; SARS-CoV-2.

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • Cell Line
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Chlorpromazine / pharmacokinetics
  • Chlorpromazine / pharmacology*
  • Drug Repositioning*
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2 / drug effects*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Vero Cells
  • Virus Replication / drug effects*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Chlorpromazine