Till the date, the deadly novel coronavirus has infected 210 countries and territories around the world. The world has reported 3,074,553 positive cases, 211,773 deaths so far. Doctors and researchers across the world are trying to develop drugs and vaccines to prevent the deadly coronavirus. Under such circumstances, hospitals in New York have been quietly testing a common over-the-counter drug as a probable cure for coronavirus (COVID-19) after doctors in China found that elderly survivors were consuming it.
Have you ever heard of a drug named, famotidine? This medicine is especially used for peptic ulcers and GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) and sold in oral form under brand name Pepcid. Famotidine is the active compound in the over-the-counter (OTC) heartburn drug Pepcid. It is being examined to treat hospitalized patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is responsible for causing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), by Northwell Health in the New York City area.
Northwell Health is a nonprofit healthcare organization and also the state’s largest healthcare provider. New York’s largest healthcare provider started its intravenous treatment procedure on the coronavirus patients on April 7. The doses have been about nine times higher than the dosage amount found in Pepcid for heartburn.
As a part of an American trial, the hospital had tested the intravenous famotidine treatment on 1,174 patients, among them 187 COVID-19 patients in critical status, including many on ventilators. Preliminary results of the clinical trial of famotidine should be available in ‘a few weeks’, Dr. Kevin Tracey told Science magazine. He is the president of Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at New York’s largest healthcare network, Northwell Health, which runs 23 hospitals in the New York City.
Dr. Kevin Tracey and his colleagues developed the idea to examine famotidine after it was observed that some infected patients in Wuhan city, China consuming the drug showed positive response than patients not taking the drug. Doctors observed that many of the coronavirus infected patients in China who experienced a heartburn and took famotidine for the same survived longer than infected patients who took different more expensive drugs (like omeprazole). They also noticed that the poor elderly people had a higher survival rate. The report said that the hospitalized COVID-19 patients on famotidine were dying at a rate of some 14 per cent compared with 27 per cent for those not on the famotidine.
However, during the treatment trial, the patients are also being given hydroxychloroquine in addition to famotidine. Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug that is also being tested as a probable cure for coronavirus (COVID-19). Half of all the patients in the study will be given famotidine; the other half will be administered intravenous saline as a placebo. According to Tracey, hydroxychloroquine might not be used in the study going forward, since mid-March, the US Food and Drug Administration warned against its application for COVID-19 treatment because of potential risks.
Doctors and researchers suspect that in coronavirus/COVID-19, famotidine binds to the papainlike protease, an enzyme which helps pathogens replicate in the body and stops them replicating. Investigating some reports from China, it is believed that famotidine seems to bind to a key enzyme in SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) and could show a positive result in treatment.
However, the treatment procedure is now under clinical trial mode. Dr. Kevin Tracey and Northwell Health have not only kept the drug trial test quiet, but also have remained restricted in promoting early enthusiasm. “We still don’t know if it will work or not. If it does work, we’ll know in a few weeks,” said Dr. Tracey.