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U of U testing antidepressant drug for COVID-19

Mar 25, 2021, 12:22 PM | Updated: 1:00 pm
Dr. Adam Spivak speaks about research into whether an antidepressant called Luvox could help treat COVID-19. Photo: Dan Bammes, KSL NewsRadio

SALT LAKE CITY — Scientists at the University of Utah are exploring the use of a common antidepressant to treat COVID-19. 

Fluvoxamine, also known as Luvox, is a cheap and widely prescribed drug used to treat depression. Doctors in Europe prescribe it more commonly than those in the United States, but it shares the same class of drugs (SSRIs) as Paxil and Prozac.

Experts say Luvox helps suppress the inflammation that causes the worst symptoms of COVID-19.

Antidepressant fights COVID-19? 

Psychiatrists at Washington University in St. Louis first observed that the antidepressant Luvox could be an effective treatment for COVID-19.

Now, researchers at the University of Utah are conducting a Phase 3 clinical trial to determine whether it’s safe and effective enough to be used for treating patients as soon as they come down with symptoms of the coronavirus infection.

In the early studies, it was shown to be effective in reducing hospitalization and death from the disease.

Dr. Adam Spivak, an infectious disease specialist at the U, told a news conference today it targets a receptor  called Sigma-1, responsible for cytokine releases in the body. Researchers think the uncontrolled release of cytokines causes respiratory distress and other severe symptoms of COVID-19.

“There’s a bunch of them that are what we call ‘pro-inflammatory’, and they are absolutely the major drivers of what gets people sick from this disease,” Dr. Spivak told an online meeting with reporters on Thursday.

Trials underway

While researchers discovered the potential benefit of fluvoxamine early in the pandemic, Dr. Spivak says it took time to conduct rigorous early trials and to set up the current trials that could lead to its widespread use as a treatment for COVID-19.

“We’ve probably reached a speed limit, honestly, at least in our current medical system, of how fast we can move and still get answers that are scientifically valid while protecting the safety of our participants,” Dr. Spivak said.

Anyone who’d like to know more about the trials, or who might want to sign up as a participant, can go to the study website.


How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet).
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities).
  • Obtain a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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U of U testing antidepressant drug for COVID-19