An old drug saves lives of COVID-19 patients

An inexpensive repurposed drug called fluvoxamine can save the lives of COVID-19 patients and cut hospital admissions by up to 30 per cent, new research co-led by McMaster shows.

An inexpensive repurposed drug called fluvoxamine can save the lives of COVID-19 patients and cut hospital admissions by up to 30 per cent, says a study co-led by McMaster.

McMaster researcher Edward Mills and his team treated 739 randomly selected Brazilian COVID-19 patients with fluvoxamine, with another 733 receiving a placebo, between Jan. 15 and Aug. 6 this year.

Patients who received fluvoxamine during the trial were tracked for 28 days to determine their health outcomes and whether they still needed hospital treatment. Researchers found about a 30-per-cent reduction in hospitalizations among those receiving fluvoxamine compared to those receiving the placebo.

This effect went up to 65 per cent among patients taking all of their drugs.

The fluvoxamine trial formed part of the larger TOGETHER Trial that started in May 2020, aiming to test potential COVID-19 treatments in a community setting.

“Fluvoxamine is, so far, the only treatment that if administered early, can prevent COVID-19 from becoming a life-threatening illness. It could be one of our most powerful weapons against the virus and its effectiveness is one of the most important discoveries we have made since the pandemic began,” says Mills, co-principal investigator for the TOGETHER Trial and a professor in McMaster’s department of Health Research Methods, Evidence and Impact.

TOGETHER Trial researchers published their findings in The Lancet Global Health on Oct. 27.

“In addition, this cheap, easily accessible pill is a massive boon to public health, both in Canada and internationally, allowing hospitals to avoid expensive and sometimes risky treatments.”

Costing about $4 for a 10-day course, fluvoxamine could be a game-changer for poorer countries with low vaccination rates and lacking access to more advanced COVID-19 therapies, Mills says.

Fluvoxamine has been used since the 1990s for various conditions and its safety profile is well-known. It was identified early in the pandemic for its potential to reduce the cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients. Cytokine storms are severe immune responses to COVID-19 that can cause potentially lethal organ damage.

Joining McMaster’s scientists in the TOGETHER Trial were researchers from the CardResearch Cardiologia Assistencial e de Pesquisa LTDA in Brazil.

The TOGETHER trial researchers have also submitted their research to the U.S.-based National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization.

External funding for the study was received from FastGrants and The Rainwater Foundation.

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