A COMMON heartburn drug could treat coronavirus, doctors have revealed.
US researchers are testing whether famotidine, the active compound in the over-the-counter heartburn drug Pepcid, can ease the symptoms of the deadly disease.
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And there is currently a clinical trial is underway at major New York hospitals to test the effectiveness of the heartburn medication, in combination with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, on coronavirus patients.
It comes as scientists have been scrambling to find drugs to thwart the pandemic – with the death toll standing at 20,732 in the UK and 55,417 in the US.
According to the New York Post, more than 150 people so far are taking part in the study, which began earlier this month.
It is being conducted by the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, the research arm of Northwell Health, according to a spokesman for the hospital system.
The researchers are hoping that famotidine acts as an inhibitor of Covid-19, similar to the way certain drugs block the replication of HIV/AIDS.
Patients in the study are being given the heartburn drug directly into their veins (intravenously) along with hydroxychloroquine at Northwell’s North Shore University Hospital, Long Island Jewish Medical Center and Lenox Hill Hospital.
David Battinelli, vice president and chief medical officer of Northwell said the researchers initially wanted to test famotidine on its own.
However, with so many patients now being treated with hydroxychloroquine in the US, they wouldn’t have had enough test subjects, they told Science Magazine.
Those taking the combination will be compared with a group taking only the anti-malarial and a control group.
Hydroxychloroquine, which is typically used to treat malaria, became the first drug to be approved to treat coronavirus in the US.
The President of the United States said the drug was previously approved as an anti-malaria treatment and for arthritis.
He told a press conference at the White House on March 20 that it had now also shown "tremendous promise" in treating Covid-19, later telling Americans: "what do you have to lose? Take it."
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Despite this, the preliminary results of some local studies found hydroxychloroquine had no benefit.
Anecdotally, the heartburn drug shows promise, said Battinelli, adding that he hopes to recruit up to 1,250 patients for the trial.
This is the first known coronavirus-related study using the drug, the hospital spokesman said.
It’s unclear when the results will be made available.
Last week, an antiviral drug thought to be one of the best prospects for treating Covid-19 failed in its first major trials.
Remdesivir had been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the biggest hope of treating coronavirus.
However, these hopes appear to be dashed after the agency prematurely posted research which found the drug – originally developed to treat Ebola – was ineffective, and even potentially harmful.
It came to light after the draft documents were published by mistake.
The documents showed that the Chinese study involved 237 patients, of whom 158 were given remdesivir and 79 a placebo.
After 28 days of treatment with remdesivir there was no difference in symptoms or mortality between the two groups.
Meanwhile, the first British human trial of a coronavirus vaccine began as two volunteers were injected in Oxford last week.
Elisa Granato, a microbiologist, was the first to take part in the potentially groundbreaking study, followed by Edward O'Neill, a cancer researcher.
Scientists administered the first dose of a potential vaccine to one of them, while the other was given a meningitis vaccine used for comparison in the trial.
Ms Granato, who turned 32 yesterday, said that she was "excited" to support the advance of science.
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"Since I don't study viruses, I felt a bit useless these days, so I felt like this is a very easy way for me to support the cause," she told the BBC.
The research team is led by Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, who said that she was "very optimistic it's going to work".
Up to 1,102 participants aged 18 to 55 will be recruited across sites in Oxford, Southampton, London and Bristol.
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