A plethora of articles have been published recently around the idea of repurposing existing FDA-approved drugs for possible COVID-19 treatment. Talk of supercomputers working out what medications might be useful is all the rage. Unfortunately, some of this information has resulted in at least one death from folks self-administering “treatments” that, at this time, would best be classified as anecdotal.
The usual timeline required from drug discovery to treatment availability (which is often on the order of a decade or so) makes it seem as if repurposing an existing drug would save a lot of money, effort, and time – time being the most critical factor for today’s COVID-19 patients. On the surface, repurposing existing drugs is a great idea. After all, we already know a lot about these approved drugs, such as toxicity, metabolic pathways, and expected side effects.
But here’s the catch – the information we know about these approved drugs only applies to a specific, select population of people with certain medical conditions (the target population). There is no better (worse?) example of ill-advised drug repurposing than the example of thalidomide. Thalidomide was first discovered and introduced in 1957 as a treatment for insomnia, coughs, colds, and headaches. Although the drug was not tested in pregnant women, physicians noticed the drug seemed to combat nausea, and they began prescribing it for morning sickness. The results were disastrous; about 40% of the infants died at birth, and many others were born with severe deformities of limbs and other defects.
Thalidomide is an extreme example, but this type of unexpected side effect when drugs are used in untested populations is why we need to wait for the results of the clinical trials before jumping on board with “computer determined” treatments for COVID-19. To be sure, the COVID-19 clinical trials are being implemented in record time. We attended a web meeting last week where a doctor in New York told us her hospital had initiated a drug trial in 4 days, which I can tell you is a stunning accomplishment!
Until we have a treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19, you know what to do – social distancing, wash your hands, don’t touch your face.
If you are interested in learning more about clinical trials, contact the Clinical Research Center at 541-766-2163 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/corvallisclinicresearch
Julie Carrico is a Senior Associate Coordinator with The Corvallis Clinic Clinical Research Center.