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A common heartburn medicine might work against coronavirus

Updated Apr 27th, 2020 7:40AM EDT
Coronavirus Cure
Image: Julio Cortez/AP/Shutterstock

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  • Doctors in New York are looking at a drug that usually treats heartburn for COVID-19 therapy.
  • The novel coronavirus might respond to famotidine, an affordable medicine for heartburn.
  • A computer model also identified famotidine as a potential medicine that could stop viral replication.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The novel coronavirus has been quite a challenge for doctors looking to find therapies that could stop the virus from replicating and thus reduce complications that can lead to death. Several drugs that have been designed and approved to treat other ailments may work in COVID-19 therapies, and some of these candidates are quite popular after having been mentioned in White House press briefings. Hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir are probably the most well-known COVID-19 drugs that are in trials right now, although not all results are promising. But researchers are also trying out other drugs that may have a positive effect on COVID-19 patients, including a cheap drug that’s used to treat heartburn.

Called famotidine, this potential coronavirus treatment is in testing at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, which runs 23 hospitals in the New York City area. Some 187 patients are included in the clinical trial, and Northwell hopes to enroll 1,200 patients.

“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,” Dr. Kevin Tracey told CNN. Famotidine might be one of them.

“It’s generic, it’s plentiful, and it’s inexpensive,” the doctor said. “We don’t know if it has any benefit. We really don’t. I swear we don’t. People are hoping for anything. But we need to do this clinical trial.” He also advised people not to go to the drugstore and buy the drug just because it’s used in a clinical trial.

As always, you should avoid self-medication at home for any condition, not just the coronavirus.

The patients in the study receive the drug intravenously, at doses at about nine times what someone would take for heartburn.

The clinical trial, however, has a huge caveat. It’s not just famotidine that’s being administered to patients. Everyone in the study also takes hydroxychloroquine as well. Half of the people will receive famotidine and hydroxychloroquine, while the other half will only get the latter and a placebo.

The study started in early April when hydroxychloroquine was viewed as a game-changer thanks to Trump’s praising remarks of the anti-malarial. More recent research showed hydroxychloroquine might not be the miracle drug touted on TV. The Northwell study might continue without the anti-malaria drug in the future.

The idea to use a heartburn drug came from observations made in China, where an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital noticed that COVID-19 patients who were also being administered famotidine were faring better than other patients taking a different drug. Famotidine is affordable, and it’s used by poorer patients. Wealthier Chinese patients were prescribed a different, more expensive medication (omeprazole) for the same condition.

Famotidine also showed up as a potential treatment for the novel coronavirus on a computer model from Florida-based Alchem Laboratories. Apparently, the drug is at the top of the list, as the structure of famotidine could stop the virus from replicating.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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