Generic Anti-Depressant Drug May Reduce Covid Hospitalizations
(Bloomberg) -- A generic and low-cost antidepressant appears able to reduce the risk that Covid-19 will land an infected patient in the hospital, according to a Brazilian study published in the Lancet Global Health journal.
Just under 11% of patients given fluvoxamine twice a day for 10 days needed emergency medical care for at least six hours or were hospitalized. That compares with almost 16% of those given a placebo in a trial of about 1,500 patients.
Fluvoxamine is currently used to treat mental health conditions such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders and has been safely prescribed as a treatment for nearly 30 years. It was chosen to be studied as a potential treatment for Covid-19 due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
The pill, originally sold under the brand name Luvox, isn’t as potent as Merck & Co.’s new antiviral for Covid-19, which cut hospitalizations and deaths in half. However, it’s significantly cheaper, selling for less than a dollar a day.
Fluvoxamine is one of eight repurposed treatments that the TOGETHER trial is investigating for Covid-19 efficacy. The trial of the antidepressant began in January with a cohort of Brazilian adults who were symptomatic, had tested positive for Covid-19, were unvaccinated and had at last one high-risk factor.
“Our results are consistent with earlier, smaller trials. Given fluvoxamine’s safety, tolerability, ease of use, low cost, and widespread availability, these findings may have an important influence on national and international guidelines on clinical management of Covid-19,” said Gilmar Reis, co-principal investigator, based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
There are some potential limitations to the use of the drug for Covid-19, including the need to identify individuals at high risk in the early stages of infection in order for fluvoxamine to be effective in preventing hospitalization.
Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, said the study is promising because the product is inexpensive and could be made widely available, while adding that “the impact on more severe outcomes remains uncertain.”
She said most patients in the study were unvaccinated, so it’s not clear yet how well the drug would work in alleviating breakthrough infection and illness in immunized people.
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