Cheap antidepressant shows promise treating early COVID-19

Cheap antidepressant shows promise treating early COVID-19

In a study looking for coronavirus drugs that could be used to treat COVID-19, a cheap antidepressant was found to reduce hospitalizations among COVID-19-at-risk individuals.

Because it is known to lower inflammation, researchers tested the pill for depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. It was also promising in smaller studies.

The results were shared with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (which publishes treatment guides) and they hope for a World Health Organization recommendation.

"If WHO recommends it, you will see that it is widely taken up," Dr. Edward Mills, McMaster University Hamilton, Ontario said. He also noted that the drug is readily available in many countries. We hope it will save many lives."

Fluvoxamine, a pill called fluvoxamine would cost $4 per course of COVID-19 therapy. Compared to that, antiviral pills for COVID-19 cost approximately $700 each course. Experts predict that multiple treatments will eventually be combined to combat the coronavirus.

Nearly 1,500 Brazilians infected by coronavirus were subject to the antidepressant's effects. They also had other health issues such as diabetes and were at high risk for severe illness. Half of the patients received dummy pills and half the antidepressant at their home for a period of 10 days. The patients were followed for four weeks to determine if they were admitted to the hospital, or stayed longer in the emergency room during times when there were no beds.

Compared to 16% for those who took dummy pills, 11% of the patients on the drug required hospitalization or extended ER stays.

The study's results were published Wednesday in Lancet Global Health . Independent experts who monitored the study advised stopping it before the results became clear.

There are still questions about how to dose the pill, whether patients at lower risk might benefit from it, and whether it should be used in combination with other treatments.

Eight drugs were examined in the larger project to determine if they could be used against the pandemic virus. Although the project is still testing a drug for hepatitis, all other drugs, including metformin and hydroxychloroquine, have not been approved.

The COVID-19 pill and the generic cheap one work differently and may "be complementary," Dr. Paul Sax, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School who was not part of the study. Merck had earlier this month asked European and U.S. regulators to approve its antiviral medication.

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