U.Va. research to inform COVID-19 drug treatment
A 2019 U.Va. study will inform testing of antidepressant as a treatment for virus
The University of Virginia School of Medicine announced Tuesday that results from a 2019 U.Va. study are being used to inform a national study looking into the effectiveness of the antidepressant medication fluvoxamine as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say the drug may prevent dangerous overreactions by the immune system.
“I am excited to see the results from this clinical trial,” U.Va. researcher Alban Gaultier said in a statement. “If proven effective in decreasing the symptoms of COVID-19, this treatment would be a safe and affordable option for fighting the pandemic.”
Last year, U.Va. researchers Gaultier and Dorian A Rosen studied the use of fluvoxamine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) typically used to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, for stopping sepsis. Sepsis is a deadly inflammation that occurs when chemicals are released in the bloodstream to fight an infection.
In their study, Gaultier and Rosen determined that fluvoxamine reduced the production of cytokines — proteins produced by cells. If too many cytokines flood the body at once, it can lead to life-threatening organ failure. The U.Va. researchers’ experiments on mice were effective in treating sepsis, and now will be tested at Washington University for the same effect in treating patients with COVID-19.
According to Washington University researcher Dr. Caline Mattar, COVID-19 appears to have two key phases: the first caused by the viral infection and the second by the body’s inflammatory response. “The first is caused by the viral infection itself, which gives people a fever and a cough and makes them feel ill, among other symptoms,” Mattar said in a statement. “The information we have so far suggests that the second phase of the illness can involve a life-threatening inflammatory reaction — what we call a ‘cytokine storm.’ We want to learn whether fluvoxamine might help prevent that second phase of the illness.”
Dr. Eric J. Lenze at Washington University plans to test fluvoxamine in 152 patients with COVID-19 in Illinois and Missouri. While quarantined at home, patients will receive fluvoxamine or a placebo treatment. To report oxygen levels and vital signs, the patients will receive thermometers, fingertip oxygen sensors and automatic blood pressure monitors.
“Using a psychiatric drug to treat COVID-19 may sound counterintuitive, but it’s no more counterintuitive than using a malaria drug,” Lenze said in a statement. “This drug has been around for decades, so we know how to use it safely. If effective, it could be an ideal drug to repurpose for outpatients with COVID.”