Key points to remember
- A recent study suggests that famotidine, the active ingredient in heartburn medications, may reduce the risk of death from COVID-19.
- More research is needed to confirm that famotidine is a safe and effective treatment for patients with COVID-19.
- Even with safe and effective vaccines available, more research into COVID-19 treatment is needed to help patients recover and prepare for future pandemics.
A recent study found that the active ingredient in heartburn medications, famotidine, may help treat people infected with COVID-19.
In the July study, published in Signal transduction and targeted therapy, the researchers analyzed 22,560 COVID-19 patients who were taking a type of medicine called histamine antagonists. This type of medicine is used to treat heartburn and several brands are available over the counter (OTC).
The researchers also looked at whether patients were taking other common over-the-counter medications besides famotidine, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and aspirin.
After statistically analyzing the data, the researchers found that famotidine appeared to reduce the risk of death for 1,379 patients sick enough to require respiratory support.
The study also showed that the combination of famotidine and aspirin can reduce the relative risk of death by 32.5%.
Although the study results suggest that famotidine shows promise, more studies are needed to prove that it could be a safe and effective treatment for COVID patients.
Why are heartburn medications?
“We were by no means the first to discover a link between heartburn medications and potential COVID treatments,” study author Cameron Mura, PhD, a senior scientist in the School of Data Science and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia, told Verywell.
A 2020 study showed that famotidine was associated with better outcomes for outpatient COVID-19 patients. However, another study published around the same time found the opposite, concluding that famotidine was associated with a higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease.
“We were intrigued that the various reports – all clinical, patient-based – that had accumulated in the literature over the past year began to paint a somewhat confusing picture,” Mura said. “Some reports have found a beneficial association between famotidine and COVID, while others were less positive. This conundrum, along with some initial statistical data we had accumulated on a positive impact of famotidine in COVID, prompted us to take a closer look at heartburn medications. ”
The researchers used data from the COVID-19 research network, which allowed them to examine the electronic health records of COVID patients from 30 countries, including a diverse group of participants.
Why might famotidine help?
Pathogens, called pathogens, sometimes trigger an overproduction of proteins that regulate various inflammatory responses in the body (cytokines). This can lead to a life-threatening surge in an immune response called a “cytokine storm” where the immune system damages even healthy tissues and organs.
Mura says some of the destruction COVID-19 is causing in the body could be linked to “a ‘deregulated’ cytokine storm.”
It happens when a patient’s immune system “reacts severely to an immunological challenge posed by an invader,” flooding the body with cytokines. The “excessive response of cytokines then wreaks havoc and destruction on target tissues,” adds Mura.
Researchers believe that famotidine may interfere with the body’s immune response by suppressing a cytokine storm. However, since other studies have shown that the drug offers no benefit or is even harmful to COVID-19 patients, more research is needed.
Why do we need treatment if we have vaccines?
While COVID vaccines are extremely effective, researching potential treatments is still a necessity. New (or reused) treatments are not intended to replace vaccines; instead, they’re adding another tool to the world’s COVID-19 arsenal by helping reduce serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths.
Helping patients recover
COVID-19 vaccines prevent infection to some extent, but people who are fully vaccinated can still get breakthrough infections, although they appear to be milder. Unvaccinated people are at high risk of getting sick and becoming seriously ill if they are infected.
Carlos Malvestutto, MD, MPH, an infectious disease physician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, told Verywell that effective treatments help patients fight the virus, recover faster, and reduce the time they are able to infect others.
Malvestutto says treatment research is particularly important for “immunocompromised patients or patients taking immunosuppressive drugs, who will not develop an adequate immune response to vaccines.”
Therefore, Malvestutto says that protect vulnerable people means that we need researchers to work on “identifying effective drugs for treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis”.
Researchers around the world are studying a potential antiviral treatment, whether it’s already being used to treat other conditions or whether it’s completely new and specifically designed for COVID-19.
“We need to consider and evaluate all possible treatments, whether reused or newly designed,” says Malvestutto. “Ideally, we should have multiple treatments that can be easily administered with proven safety and effectiveness for COVID-19. We need drugs that can be given not only as intravenous infusions, but also as subcutaneous, inhaled and oral injections that can be extended and made available to everyone in the world.
Many COVID-19 treatment studies have looked at drug reuse – a process of identifying new therapeutic uses for existing drugs – because it is faster and more cost effective than making a completely new drug.
Whether a drug is old or new, it would still have to go through clinical trials, which is a crucial step in determining whether a treatment is safe and effective.
What it means for you
Many oral medications have shown promise as potential treatments for COVID-19, but there is no conclusive evidence of their benefits. More research is needed to determine whether various drugs are safe and effective to give to people with COVID-19.
To prepare for future pandemics
In June, the Biden administration allocated $ 3 billion to develop potential antiviral drugs. This money is not just for finding treatments for COVID-19, but for other high-risk viruses that could cause pandemics in the future.
The study of therapeutic agents for COVID-19 will help equip the world against present and future viral threats.
“We don’t know when the next pandemic will occur and, most annoyingly, what form it might take,” Mura said. “Humanity is still benefiting by investing in studies of drugs against COVID-19. Indeed, all of the “infrastructures” – methodological frameworks, formalisms, computational pipelines, drug discovery and reuse platforms, etc., that have been developed and built to explore drugs against COVID- 19 – would still be relevant and applicable to the next disease. This ability, in turn, would allow us to put in place faster responses in future pandemics. ”
Any scientific development today could potentially be reused. Laying the groundwork now can help speed up future research.
“The development of robust reorientation approaches is analogous to the role of mRNA vaccines as a novel approach to vaccine development,” said Mura. “Now that we have the technology, it can be deployed faster and more effectively in future outbreaks. ”
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