COVID-19 Patients in New York Receive Heart Burn Drug ‘Famotidine’ Even As Clinical Trials are Still on the Way

Staff Reporter

(Photo : Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash) Scientists are studying the possibility of adding famotidine, a heartburn drug, in the roster of coronavirus drugs.

Coronavirus patients in New York are currently receiving heartburn medicine to determine if it helps in fighting the virus. Presently, around 187 patients have enrolled in the clinical trial at Northwell Health, a nonprofit unified healthcare network that is New York State’s largest healthcare provider and private employer. The organization hopes to enroll 1,200 patients to further their study eventually. 

Dr. Kevin Tracey, the president of Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health and leader of the study, says that the first findings of the clinical trial of famotidine could come out in the next few weeks.

He said if famotidine proves to be effective against COVID-19, it would be easy to use it on a widespread scale. He adds that although the drug is inexpensive, generic, and abundant in stocks, there is still a possibility that the drug might not work.

Tracey emphasized that the patients participating in the study are in the hospital, taking huge doses of the drug intravenously. The doses used in the study are about nine times the usual prescription for someone who would typically use for heartburn, he said. He cautioned against people buying a bunch of Pepcid and trying it out for themselves.

The idea to study famotidine came to the group after they noticed that some coronavirus patients in China who took the drug showed more favorable results than patients who did not.

Tracey noted that studies on Chinese patients have not yet been published. However, Dr. Michael Callahan, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, observed that some people with lower incomes were coping better than their wealthier counterparts who also had heartburn. Callahan previously worked with coronavirus patients in China.

When Callahan and the Chinese doctors looked closer, they found that many of the people with lower incomes were taking famotidine, whereas the upscale patients turned to take a different, more expensive drug.

According to Tracey, a lot of narratives circulating gave them hope about the drug, as well as seeing how the underprivileged citizens in China seemed to do well on it.  

Furthermore, Alchem Laboratories Corporation in Florida used a computer model to draw a list of existing drugs that show potential in fighting coronavirus. Famotidine showed up nearly at the top of their list. 

The study on famotidine was first reported in Science Magazine.

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No Rush Equals No Unnecessary Hype

In the Northwell trial, all the patients are taking hydroxychloroquine in conjunction with famotidine. Tracey said that when the study started in early April, doctors and patients were insisting on using hydroxychloroquine, and in effect, it became the standard of care. He said it was hard to deny the patients of their plea of using the antimalarial, as it was previously touted as a ‘game-changer’, which many people desperate for their lives believed.

Half of the patients in the study will receive famotidine in addition to hydroxychloroquine. The other half will be given intravenous saline as a placebo, which has no effect.

Tracey said that Northwell kept the study under hushed tones until now because of the experience with doctors hurrying to put patients on hydroxychloroquine. He doesn’t want that same rush for intravenous famotidine since it is yet to be proven as effective. His research team also worries not having enough stocks of the drug for their study subjects, if everyone buys the stocks out of unnecessary hype.

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