Trial studying antidepressant's possible role in COVID-19 treatment after discovery by UVA doctor

Posted at 8:17 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 22:26:56-05

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - A clinical trial is underway to test whether a common drug may help treat COVID-19 following a discovery by a doctor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

“It's kind of a dream for every scientist to make a discovery that can impact human health,” Dr. Alban Gaultier, Neuroscience Professor at University of Virginia School of Medicine told News 3. “It was kind of by accident.”

Gaultier said the discovery involved the antidepressant, fluvoxamine, also known as Luvox, capable of possibly stopping sepsis.

“It's actually prescribed for treating anxiety disorder,” he said. “When we tested fluvoxamine in our animal model of sepsis, we discovered fluvoxamine was very good at protecting from sepsis symptoms.”

This led to a virtual clinical trial by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis looking into whether the drug can benefit those diagnosed with COVID-19.

Gaultier said some newly-diagnosed patients were given the drug to take twice a day. They reported their symptoms through an app while researchers measured for clinical deterioration.

“Decrease in oxygen level in the blood, difficulty breathing and, of course, hospitalization,” Gaultier said. “Out of the fluvoxamine group, it was zero. None of the patients presented with clinical deterioration.”

Now, researchers are performing another virtual trial, with patients in Virginia and around the country, with underlying conditions.

Researchers will track patients by video chat, email or phone to find out if the drug benefits them and helps keep them out of the hospital. Gaultier told News 3 it’s a game-changing type of clinical trial format.

“If the clinical trial is successful, fluvoxamine will be given to patients present the symptoms very early in the disease,” he said. “The value would be one, preventing the patient to go to the hospital, and two, also unloading the hospital from the incredible burden they're suffering now.”

Gaultier said a successful trial and presentation for FDA approval would be a win for research, and in the fight against COVID-19.

“Now, it's time for the population to help the scientists and the doctors put the dot at the end of the sentence, which is fluvoxamine can or cannot be a treatment for COVID,” Gaultier said.

Washington University researchers are looking for more people, including those in Virginia, to take part in the trial. For more information, click here.