Coronavirus Treatment: Doctors Turn To Heartburn Drug For Possible Cure

A common heartburn medicine has been added to the list of potential treatments for COVID-19. Hospitals in New York have launched a new study to see how famotidine, an active ingredient in Pepcid, could help improve the conditions of patients with the novel coronavirus. 

Northwell Health, which runs 23 hospitals in New York City, has been providing the drug to 187 patients in the first part of the clinical trial. Participants may increase to 1,200 if initial tests show positive effects, CNN reported Monday.

"There are many examples in the history of medicine where a drug that was designed for one purpose turns out to have an effect in another disease," Dr. Kevin Tracey, president of Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell, said. 

Doctors turned to famotidine after reports from China showed COVID-19 patients improved their conditions after taking the heartburn drug. Some people with lower incomes in the country had higher survival rates after contracting the coronavirus compared to wealthier patients who also had heartburn, according to Michael Callahan, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

Callahan was backed by Chinese doctors who also observed many of those who took famotidine had better conditions. They said wealthier patients who received a different, more expensive heartburn drug appeared with more serious health problems due to COVID-19. 

"The poor peasants really seemed to do well on famotidine," Tracey said. "There are a lot of anecdotes passing around that give us some hope."

A computer model from Florida-based Alchem Laboratories ranked famotidine as one of the top options among existing drugs that might fight the novel coronavirus. Tracey explained that the drug mainly works to stop the virus from replicating.
Challenges Facing Famotidine

Despite showing positive effects on COVID-19 patients, the common heartburn drug may not work for everyone. Tracey said that the patients in China received high doses, nearly nine times the normal medication provided for heartburn.

"You should not go to the drugstore and take a bunch of heartburn medicine," he said. 

It is also important to know that doctors do not recommend famotidine as an effective treatment for coronavirus. The ongoing clinical trial at Northwell aims to understand how the drug directly helps patients and to see potential side effects. 

However, if the study confirms the positive effects of famotidine as a COVID-19 treatment, it may not take long to provide the drug to patients affected by the virus. Tracey said the heartburn drug has been widely available and inexpensive.

Preliminary results of the clinical trial are expected to come out in the next few weeks. 

Coronavirus & COVID-19 An artist's representation of the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease. Pixabay

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