Montreal researchers think an antidepressant could keep people with COVID-19 out of hospital

Shoppers walk along Montreal's Sainte-Catherine Street during the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, December 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

An antidepressant medication created and approved for obsessive-compulsive disorder is being examined as a possible treatment to slow the effects of COVID-19.

A McGill study on fluvoxamine, an antidepressant commonly sold under the brand name Luvox, is entering the next phase of trials after researchers reportedly found the drug may help to stop the progession of COVID-19 symptoms.

In the first phase of the trial, which is also underway in the U.S., a group of people with COVID-19 was given a dose of fluvoxamine.

In that group of 80 patients, nobody’s symptoms got worse. In another group of 76, which was given a placebo instead, six people experienced worsening symptoms.

“That's a difference that is statistically significant,” said Emily McDonald, the study’s principal investigator.

According to the university, researchers are looking specifically to see the drug’s effects to prevent shortness of breath, oxygen requirements, and whether it reduces long-term symptoms due to COVID-19 for so-called ‘long-haulers’.

'HIGH HOPES THAT THIS DRUG MAY PREVENT HOSPITALIZATIONS': DOCTOR

If the study finds positive results, researchers say it could help to keep people out of hospitals, which are becoming overwhelmed as the coronavirus explodes across the province.

“Drug repurposing allows new treatments to be tested faster than new drug development," said Todd C. Lee, co-principal investigator.

“Based on the promising results of the previous clinical trial, we have high hopes that this drug may prevent hospitalization and reduce the strain on the healthcare system.”

The next step is to expand the trial to a larger group.

People who have tested positive for COVID-19 can enrol to be a part of the next trial. They’ll be sent a dosage of floxamine, or a placebo, and equipment to monitor their condition.

The whole trial process will take about three months, according to the university.

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