There is anecdotal evidence that popular over-the-counter heartburn medicine Pepcid may be a breakthrough treatment for COVID-19. Now, hundreds of seriously ill patients in New York are receiving its active ingredient, famotidine, at nine times the heartburn dose as part of a new clinical trial studying its effects.
Dr. Michael Callahan, an American specialist working in Wuhan, China, said he first noticed that COVID-19 patients who were already taking Pepcid for heartburn had a better chance of surviving the disease, Science Magazine reported.
According to the magazine, while reviewing patient records, Callahan and his colleagues noticed a trend that many of the elderly survivors tended to be poor. It turns out, that many of them had been suffering from chronic heartburn, and were taking famotidine rather than the more-expensive omeprazole.
Callahan brought the issue back home and worked with Northwell Health, a network of hospitals in New York to propose a clinical trial.
News of the study has already triggered a run on Pepcid in pharmacies across America. Inside Edition managed to find just one box — the very last one for sale at a New York City pharmacy.
And the study's own backers reportedly kept it a closely guarded secret to secure a stockpile of the drug before other hospitals or the government started to buy it, according to Science Magazine.
But experts warn that the study has only just begun and Pepcid has not been approved as a COVID-19 treatment.
"If somebody who was developing breathing difficulties were to delay seeking care because they think this drug might be effective that would be a mistake," said infectious disease expert Dr. Stuart Ray. "We really don't have any evidence right now that this drug is effective because it's never been tested in a proper trial."