The gout drug colchicine appears to lower the severity of COVID-19, a small new Brazilian study finds, adding to evidence that the familiar medication holds promise as a treatment for hospitalized patients.
Patients who received colchicine in this randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial presented better evolution in terms of the need for supplemental oxygen and the length of hospitalisation. ... Colchicine was safe and well tolerated,” the study authors wrote in. However, deaths were rare in the trial, they added, and it is impossible to “evaluate the capacity of colchicine to avoid admission to ICU and reduce mortality.”
The oral anti-inflammatory colchicine, widely used as treatment in rheumatic disease, was first approved in the United States 60 years ago. Researchers began to explore its potential as a COVID-19 treatment in the early months of the pandemic.
On Jan. 25, an international team of researchers reported in a– but not yet a published paper – that the drug seemed to reduce hospitalizations, mechanical ventilation, and deaths in the . Earlier, a much-smaller, randomized, open-label, Greek linked the drug to reduced time to clinical deterioration and hospital stay.
The Brazilian authors of the new study, led by Maria Isabel Lopes of the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto Medical School, randomly assigned 75 hospitalized patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 to colchicine or placebo. A total of 72 subjects completed the April-August 2020 trial: 36 received colchicine (typically 0.5 mg three times for 5 days, then 0.5 mg twice daily for 5 days; doses were adjusted in low-weight patients and those with chronic kidney disease). The other 36 received the placebo.
(In the United States, 0.6-mg tablets of generic colchicinewith free coupons, according to goodrx.com.)
The median age in the groups was similar (55 years); and the placebo group had more women (61% vs. 47% in the colchicine group, P = .34). All 72 patients received the same COVID-19 treatment at the time of the trial: azithromycin, hydroxychloroquine, and unfractionated heparin. Most patients, about two-thirds in both groups, also received methylprednisolone because they needed higher amounts of supplemental oxygen.
Patients in the colchicine group needed supplemental oxygen for less time: Their median time of need was 4.0 days (interquartile range [IQR], 2.0-6.0) vs. 6.5 days (IQR, 4.0-9.0) for the placebo group (P < .001). The median time for hospitalization was also lower at 7.0 days (IQR, 5.0–9.0) for the colchicine group vs. 9.0 (IQR, 7.0–12.0) for the placebo group (log rank test, 10.6; P = .001).
The researchers also reported the percentage of patients who needed supplemental oxygen at day 2 as 67% with colchicine vs. 86% with placebo, and at day 7 as 9% vs. 42% (log rank test, 10.6; P = .001). Two patients in the placebo group died, both from ventilator-associated pneumonia.
As for side effects, new or worsened diarrhea was reported more often in the colchicine group (17% vs. 6% with placebo), but the difference was not statistically significant (P = .26), and diarrhea was controlled via medication.
The researchers reported that limitations include the exclusion criteria and their inability to link colchicine to rates of ICU admissions and death.
The drug appears to help patients with COVID-19, the study authors wrote, by “inhibiting inflammasome, reducing neutrophil migration and activation, or preventing endothelial damage.”