Is Pepcid AC an effective treatment for coronavirus?

In a Nutshell

  • Besides antiviral drugs, investigators are also testing out unconventional drugs (such as Pepcid) for treatment of COVID-19
  • There is growing evidence that Pepcid can lower the requirement of ventilators among critical patients while improving the survival rate
  • Investigation is underway, where healthcare providers are testing the effects of high intravenous doses (10-40 mg per day) in COVID-19 patients

Why is Pepcid AC tied to COVID-19?

With increasing morbidity and mortality across the globe due to COVID-19 pandemic, scientists all over the world are looking for a cure to prevent, treat, or manage this notorious infection. Researchers are testing existing treatment modalities and drugs while investigating new potential treatment options that can control this virus. Besides testing antiviral drugs like Ruxolitinib and Remdesivir, investigators are also exploring unconventional treatment options like Pepcid (or Famotidine) – a popular over-the-counter heartburn drug that exerts its actions by blocking the production of stomach acid.

Verdict -Is Pepcid AC an effective treatment for coronavirus?

Pepcid was first considered as a potential treatment option for COVID-19 management when Chinese investigators reported that COVID-19 patients who were taking Pepcid for heartburn had a higher survival rate over patients who were using other antacids with similar risk profile. Death rate in patients taking Famotidine was reported to be 14% as opposed to 27% in those who were taking other antacids.

This theory led investigators to start a trial in April 2020 in Northwell hospitals of New York. Since Famotidine has been around since 1980 and has proven efficacy and safety profile, investigators thought that this could be a safe and cost-effective remedy. To study the potential efficacy of Pepcid in the management of COVID-19, investigators decided to enroll 1,200 study participants in the trial with moderate to severe symptoms of COVID-19. The goal of the study was to see if high dose intravenous Famotidine therapy shortens the disease symptoms or reduces the requirement of ventilator among patients. The study is still underway. Information about this trial was published in the peer reviewed journal Science.

Another study led by Julian Abrams and Daniel Freedberg - renowned Columbia University researchers explored the outcome of Famotidine administration among COVID-19 patients admitted at Columbia University Irving Medical Center during Feb 2020 to April 2020. Investigators reviewed the records of over 1,600 COVID-19 patients who received the treatment at the center and identified that:

  • 84 of 1,600 patients received Famotidine within first 24 hours of admission in the hospital for at least 6 days in a dose ranging from 10 – 40 mg via intravenous route
  • Patients who received Famotidine recovered early and were at 2-fold lower risk of requiring ventilator therapy

The results of this study were published in the scientific journal Gastroenterology.

Nuances/ Safety

The clinical trials are still underway and so far, concrete data is not available to accept or reject this hypothesis. Therefore, if you have developed the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, speak to a healthcare professional and refrain from self-medicating yourself with Pepcid.

Strength of Evidence: C
The theory presented in this article is still under investigation and so far, sufficient data is not available to suggest Pepcid as a potential treatment option for COVID-19 infection.

Our Ruling

Pepcid is a popular antacid drug that helps in reducing the symptoms of heartburn. Investigators have inconclusive evidence from observational studies that Pepcid intake in high doses can improve the outcome among serious COVID-19 patients. Research is still underway, and we may see more concrete data once the results of ongoing trials is released.

Our Sources:

  1. https://cen.acs.org/pharmaceuticals/Pepcid-treat-COVID-19/98/i25
  2. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/new-york-clinical-trial-quietly-tests-heartburn-remedy-against-coronavirus
  3. https://www.studyfinds.org/pepcid-ac-famotidine-indigestion-drug-effective-treatment-mild-coronavirus-cases/
  4. https://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(20)34706-5/pdf
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How we grade evidence?

Learn more about it here.