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A common drug that costs $25 a month may save coronavirus patients’ lives

Published May 21st, 2020 1:44PM EDT
Coronavirus Treatment
Image: Robin Utrecht/Shutterstock

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  • A common blood pressure drug that’s been used by millions of people might reduce the risk in coronavirus patients of severe respiratory complications that can lead to death.
  • Researchers from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have studied the prophylactic effects of prazosin, an alpha-1 adrenergic receptor antagonist, on cytokine storms and ARDS.
  • Clinical trials studying the ability of the drug to prevent coronavirus complications are underway.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

No matter how contagious the novel coronavirus might be, we’d have an entirely different approach to it if it didn’t lead to life-threatening complications. Vaccines and antibody drugs specially crafted to speed up recovery will help a great deal, but until the new drugs are out, doctors are trying to figure out therapies that can prevent life-threatening complications with the help of some of the medicines that are already available to them. Several studies proved that existing meds can be used in COVID-19 cases with notable results. Remdesivir, a triple-drug therapy that includes an HIV antiviral, and blood thinners are just some of the types of drugs that can be used to treat COVID-19 patients. The use of blood thinners is a notable highlight, as it can prevent blood clotting and reduce complications.

Researchers now think that the use of a common blood pressure drug could prevent inflammatory syndromes in coronavirus patients that can lead to death, but human trials will be required to investigate their efficacy.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center explained in a new paper that a drug called prazosin can be used to prevent an exacerbation of the immune response called cytokine storm syndrome that can appear in COVID-19 patients.

These cytokine storms can reduce the lungs’ ability to participate in gas exchange and then lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Patients with ARDS will require ventilation and they often risk death. By stopping the cytokine storms, the researchers hope to prevent ARDS complications and save lives.

“Preliminary results from a recent retrospective clinical study revealed that for hospitalized patients diagnosed with pneumonia or acute respiratory distress, the likelihood of requiring mechanical ventilation and dying was significantly lower if patients were taking ⍺1-AR antagonists during the year preceding hospitalization,” the researchers wrote.

Prazosin is one example of an ⍺1-AR (alpha-1 adrenergic receptor) antagonist, which is used to treat blood pressure and prostate gland enlargement, among other things. The drug costs $25 per month and is used by millions of people over the last two decades, per Knowridge.

“Prospective clinical trials in high risk patients are needed to assess ⍺1-AR antagonist utility in preventing — not treating — COVID-19 [cytokine storms],” the researchers explain. “We emphasize that the extensive experience with using prazosin for other indications should prioritize — not obviate — rigorous, controlled clinical research rather than indiscriminate off-label use in patients exposed to or infected with SARS-CoV2. Such trials could be expeditiously implemented in areas suffering from high infection rates that are overwhelming hospital capacity.”

The researchers are already conducting clinical trials at multiple institutions and will make their protocols available at this link when approved by the Johns Hopkins Internal Review Board. The drug may be used to reduce the risk of death in other conditions that can cause ARDS, not just from COVID-19.

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.