Hospitals in New York have begun testing famotidine, the active drug in the over-the-counter heartburn medication Pepcid, as a possible treatment for COVID-19 with early results anticipated in the next few weeks.
“There are many examples in the history of medicine where a drug that was designed for one purpose turns out to have an effect in another disease,” said Dr. Kevin Tracey, president of Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, which runs 23 hospitals in New York City.
Medical experts have called attention to the drug after infectious disease doctor Michael Callahan of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston noticed low-income COVID-19 patients in China who were taking famotidine were faring better than wealthier patients who were taking a more expensive version of the drug. While the official results of the study in China have not been published, patients taking famotidine seemed to be dying at a rate of about 14% versus 27% for those not taking the drug.
To date, 187 patients have been enrolled in the study, with a goal of 1,200 total participants. Patients are taking large doses of famotidine intravenously—about 9 times the normal amount used to treat heartburn.
“You should not go to the drugstore and take a bunch of heartburn medicine,” cautions Tracey.
A computer model used by Alchem Laboratories also put famotidine at the top of a list of existing drugs that could potentially combat coronavirus. Tracey said that theoretically famotidine could potentially stop the virus from replicating in the same way that protease inhibitors are used to treat HIV.
Sources: CNN 4/27/20; Science Magazine 4/2020