Antidepressant Fluvoxamine Showing Promise in Treating COVID-19

An antidepressant called fluvoxamine has been showing promise in helping reduce hospitalizations and deaths for people diagnosed with COVID-19 because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

NBC Los Angeles

An antidepressant called fluvoxamine has been showing promise in helping reduce hospitalizations and deaths for people diagnosed with COVID-19 because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

Kylie de Best, Editor

With the pandemic going on for almost two years, there have been many advancements in the kinds of medicine used to treat COVID-19. Recently, it has been shown that an antidepressant called fluvoxamine helps decrease the chance of a person requiring hospitalization for COVID-19.  

Fluvoxamine is a drug that is used to treat OCD and depression. Its cheap price of $4 for a 10-day course makes it affordable for people to use, which is a huge benefit in promoting equality in treatments for COVID-19. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, which is crucial in reducing severe COVID-19 symptoms, it took interest in scientists in Brazil, who started a study to see how patients would react to the drug. 

In the first study, 741 out of 1,500 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were given a 100 mg tablet of fluvoxamine while 756 were given a placebo. They were given these medications twice a day for 10 days, but the experiment ended early due to the significantly better outcomes presented in the patients taking fluvoxamine (WUSTL).

When looking at the results of the experiment, “of those taking fluvoxamine, 11% became sick enough to require an extended stay at a COVID-19 emergency facility or be admitted to a hospital, compared with 16% of people who received a placebo” (WUSTL). When examining those who took at least 80% of their pills, the risk of hospitalization was reduced by two-thirds, and only one person died while 12 died of COVID-19 in the group that was given a placebo. This reduced the mortality risk by 91%, showing promise that it can be used as an effective treatment for COVID-19 (WUSTL).

Additionally, it can also be very helpful for countries that are having difficulties getting people vaccinated, and even for those who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 despite their vaccination status. Though many existing anti-inflammatory drugs have been tested, this is one of the very few that has been proven to effectively work. Another benefit of this drug is that it doesn’t require emergency use authorization as it is already approved by the FDA (WUSTL).

This is a great example showing how repurposing drugs can be beneficial. Elaine Thio (11) finds this important because “it offers convenience and saves time through knowing a lot about the medicine already. Since COVID-19 is something that has been around for a while, taking advantage of medicine we have now will likely save time compared to developing new medicine.” Although drugs are made to treat one issue, it does not mean it can’t be used for other purposes. For example, though fluvoxamine focuses on changing serotonin levels, it also targets a “protein called the sigma-1 receptor, which regulates the release of inflammatory molecules, including several that escalate in people with severe COVID” (Scientific American). 

Many studies have been used to see how the sigma-1 receptor impacts inflammation. One of these involved mice being chemically induced with sepsis, and a majority of those who had low amounts of the sigma-1 receptor died from severe inflammation, while those given fluvoxamine helped reduce inflammation and caused the animals to survive (Scientific American).

Though fluvoxamine is seen as an effective way to reduce hospitalizations, scientists are seeing a pattern with other antidepressants too. For example, it seemed that mentally-ill patients who were taking antidepressants were not getting COVID-19 as severe as the hospital staff would (Scientific American). A potential reason for this is because of the anti-inflammatory properties in antidepressants. This shows how finding another purpose for medicine is very convenient, as there is already a lot of research done on them and the side effects. Through the use of fluvoxamine and experimenting with other medicine, it has helped make significant progress in finding a way to keep hospitalizations and deaths low.