- The researchers who discovered one of the first life-saving coronavirus therapies will now study a common drug many people already have at home: Aspirin.
- A study has shown that low-dose aspirin therapy has been associated with a reduced risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and death.
- UK’s Recovery study will now include a rigorous randomized trial to see whether the drug is effective against the pathogen.
The number of daily novel coronavirus is soaring to alarming new heights in the US and Europe, and there’s no end in sight for the pandemic. Vaccines alone will not be able to limit the spread for quite a while. Not only do they have to be effective, but a large number of people will have to be inoculated before the risk of transmission can be reduced significantly. And the initial vaccine supply will not meet global demand. Public health measures will stay in place for at least another year because the use of face masks, social distancing, and hand-washing will have to be used together with vaccines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Various vaccine candidates look promising, but there’s no guarantee they will work. The most advanced drugs can always fail during the final stage of testing, so we might have to wait for a different generation of drugs to reach and graduate Phase 3. The good news is that plenty of researchers are working on various drugs that can prevent severe complications, and we’ve already seen a few small breakthroughs so far. Doctors can’t prevent all COVID-19 complications, and people keep dying at equally alarming rates. But the daily death toll is less than half the figures from March and April in the US, even though the daily number of cases has tripled.
Now, the team of researchers that gave the world one of the first life-saving coronavirus drugs is studying a different medicine as a potential COVID-19 therapy — and it’s a drug that you already have at home right now.
Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine discovered that patients taking a low dose of aspirin are less likely to die of coronavirus in a hospital, less likely to be taken to the ICU, and less likely to need a ventilator. The researchers said at the time that a randomized trial would still be needed to prove the findings.
The UK government has been running an ample COVID-19 study called Recovery, which already looked at various ideas for COVID-19 treatment. The UK researchers studied hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir before deeming them ineffective, and the same trial showed that dexamethasone can indeed prevent complications in some COVID-19 patients. Dexamethasone is a life-saving drug that works in some cases, but it’s not a perfect COVID-19 cure.
The same Recovery team will now study aspirin in a randomized trial to assess its effectiveness in COVID-19.
Aspirin can prevent blood clotting, and it’s commonly used in older patients to prevent heart attacks and strokes. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has a direct impact on blood, favoring clotting. This can lead to unexpected symptoms, including heart attacks and strokes. But clotting would also block the tiny vessels in the lungs where the oxygen-carbon-dioxide exchange is performed.
“Aspirin is widely used to prevent blood clots in many other conditions, including heart attack, stroke, and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women,” professor Martin Landray, co-chief investigator of the trial, told The Guardian. “But enrolling patients in a randomized trial such as Recovery is the only way to assess whether there are clear benefits for patients with Covid-19 and whether those benefits outweigh any potential side-effects such as the risk of bleeding.”
At least 2,000 patients will be put on 150mg of aspirin daily, along with other typical treatments. A control group of a similar size will receive only standard COVID-19 treatments. The results will be compared to determine the efficacy of aspirin in fighting COVID-19.
One of the things that make the coronavirus so scary is the fact that there are currently no effective treatments people can use at home. Drugs exist for the myriad of symptoms that can appear, but there’s nothing specific to use against the virus. If aspirin is proven effective, that could be a step in the right direction. Hospitalized patients already receive various other blood thinners, but none of them can currently be self-administered at home.