A new diverse digital trial has highlighted a cheap, easily-accessible drug that could speed up the rate of recovery for people with COVID-19. The drug, called famotidine and commonly found in the heartburn drug Pepcid, led to a significantly reduced time with COVID-19 symptoms in the 55 patients treated. Scientists hope it could act as a viable answer to the limited number of treatments available to the millions of daily COVID-19 patients worldwide.
“In our fully remote, outpatient, randomized controlled trial of famotidine (Pepcid), we found that patients on the medication saw 50 percent of their symptoms get better in just eight days of their 14 days treatment course, versus 11 days for the non-medicated group,” Christina Brennan, MD, Vice President of Clinical Research at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and first author on the paper, told IFLScience.
“Fourteen of the 16 symptoms monitored, including smell and taste, breathing and abdominal pain, also got better. We also observed that the Pepcid reduced inflammation in the body through bloodwork.”
Their results were published in the journal Gut.
When COVID-19 enters the body, it binds to receptors on the surface of the cell and begins a chain reaction that, in patients with severe symptoms, often leads to overactivation of the immune system and uncontrolled inflammation. People that have prior conditions that increase inflammation are therefore more likely to have severe COVID-19.
As such, drugs that combat severe inflammation are strong candidates for combatting COVID-19, and famotidine was highlighted to the researchers from the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Taking a diverse group of 55 unvaccinated individuals, the researchers provided iPads to each to track their symptoms throughout a 28-day period, with each symptom receiving a score representing how affected the person was. Participants either received famotidine, at a larger dose than you would buy off the shelf, or a placebo.
In the group taking famotidine, there was a 50 percent reduction in symptoms by 8.2 days, a marked increase over the placebo group, who took 11.4 days to achieve the same reduction. To achieve a 90 percent symptom reduction, the famotidine group took 27.1 days, compared to the placebo group who took 37.7 days. The results suggest famotidine, through limiting uncontrolled inflammation, could be a viable treatment for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19.
“Uncontrolled inflammation is what causes those cytokine storms – a hallmark of COVID-19 – and can cause severe complications from the virus. This is promising because it signals that by taking famotidine and reducing inflammatory proteins in the body, a person’s symptoms got better and help speed up the recovery process," continued Brennan.
"While encouraging, further trials are needed.”
The findings are somewhat limited by the small sample size and fact that those involved only had mild disease.
The study also had another outcome – to attempt to promote the diversification of clinical trials for both COVID-19 and other widespread diseases. Historically marginalized groups are typically underrepresented in clinical trials, and the researchers attempted to combat this with an accessible study design and diverse participant group.
"This pandemic has shown the need for more inclusivity and equity of care in medical research – many groups of people were underrepresented in clinical trials,” said Brennan.
“For robust, powerful data, particularly in clinical trials for COVID-19 and all diseases, you need to study all types of people from all walks of life. As we have seen with this pandemic, it has unfairly targeted people of color and those living in underserved communities."
"We hope this trial becomes a model for designing and implementing effective clinical trials in the future.”