In a study looking for existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat coronavirus, a low-cost antidepressant reduced the need for hospitalisation among high-risk adults with COVID-19.The pill used to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder was tested by researchers because it was known to reduce inflammation and appeared promising in smaller studies.They’ve shared the findings with the National Institutes of Health in the United States, which publishes treatment guidelines, and they’re hoping for a World Health Organization recommendation.
“If WHO recommends it, you will see it widely taken up,” said study co-author Dr. Edward Mills of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, adding that the drug is widely available in many poor countries. “We hope that many lives will be saved as a result of it.”The fluvoxamine pill would cost $4 for a course of COVID-19 treatment. In comparison, antibody IV treatments cost around $2,000, and Merck’s experimental COVID-19 antiviral pill costs around $700 per course. Some experts believe that various treatments will be used in tandem to combat the coronavirus in the future.
The antidepressant was tested on nearly 1,500 Brazilians who had recently been infected with coronavirus and were at risk of severe illness due to other health issues such as diabetes. Half of the participants took the antidepressant at home for 10 days, while the other half received dummy pills. They were followed for four weeks to see who ended up in the hospital or spent an extended period of time in an emergency room when hospitals were at capacity. In the group that took the drug, 11% required hospitalisation or an extended ER stay, compared to 16% in the group that took dummy pills.
The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Lancet Global Health, were so compelling that independent experts overseeing the study recommended that it be halted early because the findings were so clear.There are still questions about the best dosing, whether lower risk patients might benefit, and whether the pill should be used in conjunction with other treatments.The larger project investigated eight existing drugs to see if they could be used to combat the pandemic virus. The project is still testing a hepatitis drug, but none of the others — metformin, hydroxychloroquine, and ivermectin — have worked.
The low-cost generic and Merck’s COVID-19 pill work differently and “may be complementary,” according to Dr. Paul Sax of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study. Merck asked regulators in the United States and Europe earlier this month to approve its antiviral pill.
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