COVID-19 can cause devastating lung damage. Researchers will test whether fluvoxamine can reduce the risk. (Andrey Shevchuk/iStock)

Could antidepressant slow the progression of COVID-19, ask researchers

Researchers in Montreal are studying whether the antidepressant fluvoxamine can reduce the severity of lung problems suffered by people COVID-19 infection. The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal has been testing different drugs already approved for other uses to see whether they can reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

Fluvoxamine is a common antidepressant used to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It was found to be efficient in reducing lung injury in animal studies. Another trial found that it was associated with a reduction in worsening symptoms in people with COVID-19. That trial, called STOP COVID, was published in November 2020 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“In the STOP COVID trial, 0 of 80 patients in the fluvoxamine group and 6 of 72 patients in the placebo group experienced clinical worsening,” says Dr. Emily McDonald, the study’s principal investigator and an assistant professor of medicine at McGill University. “That’s a difference that is statistically significant. We now hope to corroborate those results in a larger sample.” 

Drs. Emily Mcdonald and Todd C. Lee will research the use of fluvoxamine to reduce the severity of lung injury from COVID-19 infection. (RI-MUHC)

Volunteers will participate from home

The researchers will test a larger number of people in the province of Quebec to see whether they can confirm the effect. In order to do that, they will recruit adults who have had a positive test result for COVID-19, have had symptoms for no more than six days and are not in hospital. They must have a risk factor for deteriorating symptoms such as being over 40 years old, being in a hard-hit ethnic group such as African Canadian, Hispanic or Indigenous, or having a medical condition such as asthma, high blood pressure, being overweight or having diabetes.

People who want to participate in the study can register online and will be sent doses of fluvoxamine, a thermometer and oxygen saturation monitor. They will be asked to take the medicine, to measure their temperature and oxygen levels and fill in a short questionnaire twice a day for 15 days. 

Trials run in Canada and the U.S.

The study is being done as part of the STOP COVID 2 clinical trial now underway in the United States. 

Collaboration between scientists in different countries has been a feature of the current pandemic. It has allowed scientists to test the usefulness of some drugs in the treatment of COVID-19 and it has enabled the quick development of vaccines.

The world-renowned Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre supports more than 420 researched and almost 1,200 researcher trainees in health.

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