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Nelfinavir, an orally administered inhibitor of human immunodeficiency virus protease, inhibits the replication of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in vitro. We conducted a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the clinical efficacy and safety of nelfinavir in patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection. We included unvaccinated asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic adult patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection within 3 days before enrollment. The patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to receive oral nelfinavir (750 mg; thrice daily for 14 days) combined with standard-of-care or standard-of-care alone. The primary endpoint was the time to viral clearance, confirmed using quantitative reverse-transcription PCR by assessors blinded to the assigned treatment. A total of 123 patients (63 in the nelfinavir group and 60 in the control group) were included. The median time to viral clearance was 8.0 (95% confidence interval [CI], 7.0 to 12.0) days in the nelfinavir group and 8.0 (95% CI, 7.0 to 10.0) days in the control group, with no significant difference between the treatment groups (hazard ratio, 0.815; 95% CI, 0.563 to 1.182; P = 0.1870). Adverse events were reported in 47 (74.6%) and 20 (33.3%) patients in the nelfinavir and control groups, respectively. The most common adverse event in the nelfinavir group was diarrhea (49.2%). Nelfinavir did not reduce the time to viral clearance in this setting. Our findings indicate that nelfinavir should not be recommended in asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. The study is registered with the Japan Registry of Clinical Trials (jRCT2071200023). IMPORTANCE The anti-HIV drug nelfinavir suppresses the replication of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in vitro. However, its efficacy in patients with COVID-19 has not been studied. We conducted a multicenter, randomized controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy and safety of orally administered nelfinavir in patients with asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic COVID-19. Compared to standard-of-care alone, nelfinavir (750 mg, thrice daily) did not reduce the time to viral clearance, viral load, or the time to resolution of symptoms. More patients had adverse events in the nelfinavir group than in the control group (74.6% [47/63 patients] versus 33.3% [20/60 patients]). Our clinical study provides evidence that nelfinavir, despite its antiviral effects on SARS-CoV-2 in vitro, should not be recommended for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 having no or mild symptoms.

Original publication





Microbiology spectrum

Publication Date





Division of Respirology, Rheumatology, Infectious Diseases, and Neurology, Department of Internal Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Miyazaki, Miyazaki, Japan.


Humans, Nelfinavir, Anti-HIV Agents, Treatment Outcome, Time Factors, Adult, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2