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Researchers studying heartburn drug as potential coronavirus treatment

Published on 27/04/20 at 11:42am
Photo by Kuldeep Singh

Researchers in America have been studying famotidine, the active ingredient in Pepcid, as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

Pepcid is an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine traditionally used as a treatment for heartburn.

Since 13 March, researchers at Northwell Health, a series of New York hospitals, have been carrying out a study in COVID-19 patients by treating them with famotidine. This was delivered through an IV in doses nine times higher than the amount found in the OTC version of Pepcid. This was given in combination with hydroxychloroquine.

More than 180 patients are participating in the study, either being treated with the combination or hydroxychloroquine alone. Researchers hope to expand this and enroll 1200 patients. The data of this study is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

This study was carried out with discretion due to fears that if it became news, then the treatment may face a shortage if citizens stockpiled the drug.

Dr. Kevin Tracey, President of Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, commented on the research and said: “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. It's generic, it's plentiful and it's inexpensive.

“We don't know if it has any benefit. We really don't. I swear we don't. People are hoping for anything. But we need to do this clinical trial. You should not go to the drugstore and take a bunch of heartburn medicine.”

Dr Carlos Del Rio, Chair of the Huber Department of Global Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, is suspicious of the secrecy around the trial. He told ABC News that: “Science has to be open, not secretive. We want transparency in clinical trials. In the early years of HIV, we tried a lot of stuff and we thought, 'Oh this is going to work' and nothing worked. When you have a disease for which there is no treatment, all sorts of different things are tried and everyone is excited about them.”

Conor Kavanagh

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