Diabetes drug could prevent severe Covid

Patient on ventilator

A recent study by the University of Colorado School of Medicine shows that diabetes drug metformin is effective for preventing severe illness from Covid-19.

The CU School of Medicine was part of a multi-site clinical trial into the effectiveness of metformin, ivermectin and fluvoxamine in non-hospitalised adults with Covid-19. 

The study, which launched in January 2021, included those who were vaccinated and those who were not, as well as people who were pregnant.

At CU, the trial was overseen by Jacinda Nicklas, MD, MPH/MSPH, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine.

Reduction in hospitalisations

“These are all generic, inexpensive drugs, so that was partly why we wanted to study them,” Nicklas says. “Around the world, not everyone can afford the more expensive drugs that we’re using in the US.” 

The researchers enrolled patients who were classified as overweight and obese and thus more likely to be hospitalised for Covid-19. The study looked to see if any of the medications prevented low oxygen saturation (below 93%), emergency department visits, hospitalisation or death.  

Ivermectin and fluvoxamine had no effect on any of the conditions, but metformin lowered the odds of emergency department visits, hospitalisations or death due to Covid-19 by over 40%; over 50% if prescribed early in onset of symptoms.  

“Metformin was the only one of the three drugs that lowered the odds of that composite outcome when we took out the pulse oximetry,” Nicklas says.

“Certainly, it’s not definitive and needs to be studied it further, but the data are suggestive that there may be something there.” 

Impact on long Covid 

The research continues to investigate whether any of the drugs have an impact on ‘long Covid’, symptoms such as fatigue, fever and shortness of breath that linger beyond an initial Covid-19 infection. 

“We don’t have the results yet, but we are looking to see if any of these medications actually changes the trajectory of long Covid or the incidence of long Covid,” Nicklas says.

Unusual remote study

This was the first trial Nicklas has conducted completely remotely.

“As you might imagine, we didn’t want to have contact with people who had active Covid disease, particularly early in the pandemic,” Nicklas says. 

“So we conducted the entire study remotely, including sending a box to their house with everything they needed for data collection. They had surveys to keep track of their symptoms, and we had them do viral swabs that we would have FedEx pick up. It was great to see we can actually do a study that way.” 

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