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Popular Heartburn Drug Is Latest Hope on Virus

Test underway involving active ingredient in Pepcid
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 27, 2020 11:35 AM CDT

(Newser) – Next up in the coronavirus drug parade: Pepcid. More specifically, famotidine, the active ingredient in the popular heartburn drug, reports Science Magazine. Hospitals in New York have begun a test involving COVID-19 patients in which roughly half will receive the drug and the rest will get a placebo, per CNN. So far, more than 180 patients are enrolled, but that figure is expected to grow. Whether famotidine actually helps is a big question mark, and before people rush out to buy Pepcid, they should know that patients are receiving roughly nine times the dose of what someone suffering heartburn would take. In other words, "You should not go to the drugstore and take a bunch of heartburn medicine," says Dr. Kevin Tracey of Northwell Health, which runs 23 hospitals in the New York City region.

"We don't know if it has any benefit," he says. "We really don't. I swear we don't." So why the test? Because of observations out of China, where elderly coronavirus patients who took Pepcid seemed to fare better than patients who didn't. Test subjects in New York are actually getting both famotidine and hydroxychloroquine, reports ABC News. The reason for that is relatively unscientific: When doctors were trying to enroll patients in the study, hydroxychloroquine (the drug much touted by President Trump) was all over the news and patients insisted on it. Including it was the only way doctors could recruit enough test subjects. "Is it good science? No, it's the real world," Tracey tells Science. Now that the FDA has issued an advisory against hydroxychloroquine, it's possible the drug won't be used in the famotidine trial going forward. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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