Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that fluvoxamine, a common antidepressant used to treat Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), may prevent the degradation of COVID-19 cases in those who have recently been infected.
The researchers were inspired to conduct the study following findings from last year that fluvoxamine is able to prevent a deadly immune response called sepsis. As negative outcomes from COVID-19 seem to occur from an overproduction of immune cells known as cytokines, the researchers thought that the drug might also be able to treat those infected with the virus.
As such, they launched a randomized, double-blind trial to investigate the effects of fluvoxamine alongside a placebo in 152 adult outpatients infected with COVID-19. In doing so, they found that none of the participants on fluvoxamine saw clinical deterioration within 15 days, whereas six patients on the placebo did. Of these six people, four were hospitalized for between four and 21 days, with one being put on a ventilator for ten days.
“The patients who took fluvoxamine did not develop serious breathing difficulties or require hospitalization for problems with lung function,” says Eric J. Lenze, MD, one of the researchers behind the study.
“Most investigational treatments for COVID-19 have been aimed at the very sickest patients, but it’s also important to find therapies that prevent patients from getting sick enough to require supplemental oxygen or to have to go to the hospital. Our study suggests fluvoxamine may help fill that niche.”
The researchers say that while there are multiple ways in which the drug may have helped patients infected with COVID-19, they suspect it chiefly works by interacting with the sigma-1 receptor to reduce the production of inflammatory molecules. This would match previous research showing that fluvoxamine reduces inflammation in animals with sepsis.
While interesting results, the researchers warn that there are some limitations to their findings. In particular, they say that their study sample size was small. As such, they now aim to launch a larger trial to test the drug in the coming weeks.