COVID-19 hospitalization reduced by low-cost antidepressant - study

Fluvoxamine distribution could dramatically reduce the costs of care globally, as the antidepressant pills cost far less than standard treatments for COVID-19 symptoms.

Pills (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Pills
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)

Treatment using the antidepressant “Fluvoxamine,” which is typically used to treat mental health conditions such as depression and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), reduced the risk of hospitalization among high-risk COVID-19 patients, a study published in The Lancet Global Health medical journal found.

Fluvoxamine, sold under the brand name "Luvox," is a serotonin inhibitor that helps restore serotonin levels in the brain. Developed in the 1990s, Fluvoxamine is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, researchers believed studying the drug's effects on COVID-19 symptoms could lead to breakthroughs in COVID treatments. Several more severe COVID symptoms are caused by inflammation, as the immune system overreacts to the infection.

The test group for the study was 1,500 immunocompromised people in Brazil who had been recently infected with COVID-19 and were in the high-risk category for serious illness. Half the group took fluvoxamine at home for 10 days, while the rest received a placebo.

Among participants who received the antidepressant (100 mg twice daily for 10 days), 11% needed hospitalization or extended medical care, compared to 16% of those who received a placebo – marking a 32% decrease in relative risk.

The promising results could be a boon in lower-income nations, where vaccine distribution has not been as swift as it has in wealthier countries and existing COVID treatments remain too expensive for the general population.

Nurses attend to a patient suffering from COVID at a hospital in Tehran last month. (credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)Nurses attend to a patient suffering from COVID at a hospital in Tehran last month. (credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

Standard IV antibody treatments cost upwards of $2,000, while the newest experimental pill made by American pharmaceutical giant Merck costs about $700 per treatment. Fluvoxamine distribution could dramatically reduce the costs of care globally, as the antidepressant pills cost far less.

“We hope it will lead to a lot of lives saved,” Dr. Edward Mills, who helped lead the research, told the Associated Press.

Questions remain, however, about the proper dosage amount of the antidepressant for COVID symptoms. Researchers will also continue studying the efficacy of Fluvoxamine mixed with other generic and lower-cost treatments. Researchers added that further evidence was needed to establish its benefit in vaccinated people, as most of the study's participants were unvaccinated.

The researchers have shared their results with the US National Institutes of Health and hope to also receive a recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for Fluvoxamine treatment.