Early Studies: Antidepressant Helping With COVID-19 Recovery

Mar 25, 2021, 4:56 PM | Updated: Mar 26, 2021, 1:59 pm

FILE PHOTO (University of Utah Health)...

FILE PHOTO (University of Utah Health)

(University of Utah Health)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A drug used as an antidepressant has now also helped patients with COVID-19 recover from the virus, small studies revealed.

Researchers at the University of Utah Health believe the drug works and are now investigating with a larger study to confirm the remarkable results of two earlier trials.

The generic drug, fluvoxamine, was developed 40 years ago as an antidepressant, primarily to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s safe, only costs $0.60 a pill and shows great promise.

“We need a drug that stops people from getting sick when they get COVID, and that’s what we’re hoping fluvoxamine will do,” said Dr. Adam Spivak, assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah Health.

For a year, since the pandemic began, researchers have tried to find that pill. Spivak said fluvoxamine could be that treatment.

“That’s a huge gap in our arsenal,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time these days thinking about vaccines. We’d love to prevent the disease. But people are still getting COVID, and they still will until we get enough people vaccinated.”

After a year of learning about the virus, researchers now believe it is the human response to the virus, rather than the virus itself, that makes people so sick.

“There’s this huge inflammatory response that gets people sick and lands them in the hospital,” said Spivak.

They think fluvoxamine targets that inflammatory response because it has anti-inflammatory properties. That’s why psychiatrists at Washington University in St. Louis decided they would test fluvoxamine on COVID-19 patients.

In a trial, they gave fluvoxamine to 150 people with confirmed COVID-19. Among those who got the placebo, 8% ended up in the hospital.

Spivak said, “Eighty people got the fluvoxamine, and zero of those people got sicker. They all recovered.”

There were similar results in November in a real-world trial after a COVID-19 outbreak at a race track in California.

“At about the 10-day point, people on fluvoxamine had largely recovered,” Spivak said.

The U of U researchers are part of a larger, multi-site trial called Stop Covid 2, with a goal of enrolling 1,100 people. You have to be at least 30 and have confirmed COVID-19 with symptoms that started within the past six days.

“We’re hoping to get this done as soon as possible so we can either confirm that fluvoxamine works and have it in our arsenal, or know that it doesn’t,” said Spivak.

The researchers conducted the entire trial remotely, shipping medicine and trial supplies to participants. It doesn’t matter where you live to participate.

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Early Studies: Antidepressant Helping With COVID-19 Recovery