A large Brazilian study suggests that a cheap antidepressant could reduce the likelihood of a Covid patient needing hospital treatment.
Fluvoxamine — available on prescription in the UK under the name Faverin — is thought to calm down the immune system due to its anti-inflammatory abilities.
It belongs to a group of drugs called selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors. They are prescribed to around 70 million Britons every year.
Nearly 741 people were enrolled in the trial, and nearly 741 of them tested positive within seven working days.
Two pills were administered daily for 10 days to patients. 79 of those who received the medication required hospital care (compared to 15.7%) in the placebo group.
The researchers wrote in the paper that their analysis revealed that the pills reduced the risk of hospitalisations by 32%.
They claimed that the treatment is not effective and could be used in third world countries without access to vaccines.
Experts who were not part of the trial suggested that it be tested on vaccinated patients to see if it provides any benefit or is safe.
Fluvoxamine — available on prescription under the name Faverin from 29p a tablet —was found to cut the risk of hospitalisations in Covid patients by a third
Fluvoxamine is a brain stimulant that increases serotonin levels, which can boost a person’s mood.
However, the hormone also helps regulate the immune system. It can prevent it overreacting and attacking healthy cell, which could lead to fatalities.
Brazilian scientists launched the study in January 2021 as Covid vaccines had just begun to be introduced.
Participants were recruited from 11 locations in Brazil. They were averagely 50 years old and had at least one underlying condition such as type 2 diabetes or hypertension.
741 people who tested positive for the virus symptoms up to seven days ago were treated.
Seventy-five percent of these patients were hospitalized with the disease; however, only one person died from the virus.
Another 756 patients were placed into the placebo group and received a pill that did NOT contain the drug.
Results showed that 119 were admitted to hospital (15.7%) and that another 12 (11.6%) died from the virus.
Researchers found no safety concerns about the drug, which is administered to patients.
Dr Gilmar Reis, a Brazilian cardiologist and co-principal investigator for the trial, stated that the results were consistent with those of smaller trials.
‘Given fluvoxamine’s safety, tolerability, ease of use, low cost, and widespread availability, these findings may have an important influence on national and international guidelines on clinical management of Covid.’
Professor Edward Mills of McMaster University in Canada is a health researcher who believes the drug can be used for those in need.
He stated that ‘Identifying affordable, widely available, effective therapies against Covid was of great importance. Repurposing existing medications that have well-understood safety profile and are widely available is also of interest.
Professor Penny Ward, a King’s College London pharmacist physician, said that fluvoxamine was a potential treatment for covid. This was based on its effects as an antiviral and impact on platelet function (reducing the risk of inflammation).
She stated that while the product was promising, especially because it is inexpensive, it could still be widely distributed. However, the impact of more severe outcomes remains unknown.
“In addition, due to the high level of protection against severe diseases offered by vaccination, the potential added benefit of this agent in relieving breakthrough infection and illness is unknown as vaccinated subjects were excluded from the trial.
“It is important that patients with vaccine breakthrough infection are included in community-based intervention trials. Therefore, trial protocols should be changed to allow inclusion of this subgroup.
The Lancet Global Health published the paper.
It is part of the Brazilian Government funded TOGETHER trial. This trial examines promising treatments that could potentially be repurposed to benefit Covid patients.