By the end of October 2021, more than 245 million cases and almost 5 million deaths have been attributed to the COVID-19 virus (1). While vaccines have been developed for the SARS-Cov-2 virus, access to the vaccines is limited in some settings (2). Scientists turned the search for effective treatments towards existing medications in the hopes of finding an effective therapy against COVID-19 (3).
A recent study in Brazil examined the effectiveness of existing drugs in the treatment of COVID-19. The results were published in the journal, the Lancet. The study was co-led by researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
One drug examined was fluvoxamine for COVID-19. Fluvoxamine is a drug typically used to treat depression and anxiety (4). It is in the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Previous research suggested a link between antidepressants and risk of intubation death among COVID-19 patients (3). Fluvoxamine could potentially aid with anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects (3).
Researchers randomly selected from 9803 patients screened for the study. Patients were adults that visited participating outpatient clinics with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or were positive for SARS-Cov-2 antigen or had a positive SARS-CoV-2 test (3). Also, selected patients had a coexisting disease or illness which increased their risk of death from COVID-19 (3). Of those, 741 patients were selected to be treated with fluvoxamine, while 756 were treated with a placebo.
The patients received the usual care for treatment of COVID-19 in addition to receiving fluvoxamine or placebo (3). Researchers contacted the participants nine times during the first month of treatment. The participants gave information about the outcome of their health after the treatment.
Researchers were primarily interested in the hospital admission due to COVID-19 for participants (3). Additionally, they tracked how long it took for patients to improve, how long they had respiratory symptoms, how long they were hospitalized if applicable, and any mortality information if applicable (3).
After the data was collected, it was statistically analyzed to determine trends. The research team found an almost 30% reduction in hospitalization for those who received fluvoxamine for COVID-19 compared to those who received the placebo (3). The study results suggest if fluvoxamine is given early during the SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can help to prevent death.
Researcher Edward Mills said in a press release, “Fluvoxamine is, so far, the only treatment that if administered early, can prevent COVID-19 from becoming a life-threatening illness. It could be one of our most powerful weapons against the virus and its effectiveness is one of the most important discoveries we have made since the pandemic began. In addition, this cheap, easily-accessible pill is a massive boon to public health, both in Canada and internationally, allowing hospitals to avoid expensive and sometimes risky treatments.”
The fluvoxamine for COVID-19 study was part of a larger study called TOGETHER. This study investigated other common medications for their potential to treat COVID-19. Among all other drugs assessed in the TOGETHER trial, fluvoxamine was 65% effective in preventing hospitalization (3).
- World Health Organization. WHO COVID-19 dashboard. covid19.who.int. Published 2021. Accessed November 2, 2021. https://covid19.who.int/
- Torres I, Artaza O, Profeta B, Alonso C, Kang J. COVID-19 vaccination: returning to WHO’s Health For All. The Lancet Global Health. Published online September 2020. doi:10.1016/s2214-109x(20)30415-0
- Reis G, dos Santos Moreira-Silva EA, Silva DCM, et al. Effect of early treatment with fluvoxamine on risk of emergency care and hospitalisation among patients with COVID-19: the TOGETHER randomised, platform clinical trial. The Lancet Global Health. Published online October 2021. doi:10.1016/s2214-109x(21)00448-4
- Research C for DE and. Fluvoxamine Maleate Information. FDA. Published online June 2, 2021. Accessed November 2, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/postmarket-drug-safety-information-patients-and-providers/fluvoxamine-maleate-information
- Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay