19:52 GMT07 May 2021
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    A common drug called famotidine, which is used to treat ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease, as well as heartburn, is being studied in New York City hospitals as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

    Earlier this month, around 187 coronavirus patients at hospitals operated by Northwell Health in the New York City area started receiving famotidine intravenously. Famotidine is the active ingredient in Pepcid, an over-the-counter drug. 

    The patients enrolled in the trial are receiving megadoses of the drug - around nine times higher than the regular over-the-counter dose. Kevin Tracey, president of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, which is part of Northwell Health, told CNN that he hopes 1,200 people will eventually be enrolled in the study.

    The patients in the trial are also being given hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that is also being tested as a potential treatment for COVID-19. While half of all the patients will be administered famotidine, the other half will be given a placebo of intravenous saline.

    Researchers decided to study famotidine as a potential coronavirus treatment after an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital who worked with COVID-19 patients in China found that many of them who had heartburn and took famotidine survived longer than coronavirus patients who took different drugs to treat heartburn.

    Even though researchers and hospitals are still using hydroxychloroquine to treat some patients, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday warned against the use of the drug outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial. 

    “The FDA is aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with COVID-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with azithromycin and other QT-prolonging medicines [which can cause irregular heart rhythm]. We are also aware of increased use of these medicines through outpatient prescriptions. Therefore, we would like to remind health care professionals and patients of the known risks associated with both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine,” the FDA wrote in its statement.

    In a statement to CNN, Tracey said that an independent board monitoring the trial will soon make a decision about whether hydroxychloroquine will continue to be used in the study. The preliminary results of the research are expected to be released in the next few weeks.

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