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Gout treatment offers little benefit against severe COVID-19, study finds

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Gout treatment offers little benefit against severe COVID-19, study finds
Treatment with the gout drug colchicine does not reduce the risk for death in patients with severe COVID-19, according to a new study. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 29 (UPI) -- A medication normally used to treat gout does not offer much benefit to patients with severe COVID-19, a study published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open found.

Hospitalized COVID-19 patients treated with colchicine, which is available by prescription only in the United States and is sold under the brand names Colcrys and Mitigare, saw small reductions in their risk for death compared with those who only received "usual care," the researchers said.

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Usual care for people with severe infection includes corticosteroids and monoclonal antibodies -- lab-created proteins that simulate the body's immune response -- though COVID-19-specific drugs have recently been cleared for use, according to Harvard Medical School, where this study was conducted.

Among patients in this study treated with colchicine plus usual care, 21% died within 28 days of starting therapy, compared with 22% who received usual care alone, the data showed.

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In addition, 25% of the patients on colchicine plus usual care required mechanical ventilation to breathe within 28 days of starting therapy, compared with 29% of those on usual care.

"The data from this trial do not show any significant benefit of colchicine in COVID-19 patients," study co-author Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt told UPI in an email.

"The drug should not be used for that purpose at this time," said Bhatt, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

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Colchicine is an anti-inflammatory that is used to prevent or treat attacks of gout, a condition caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood, according to the National Library of Medicine.

A gout attack occurs when uric acid causes inflammation in the joints that is experienced as pain and swelling, it says.

The drug was considered as a potential treatment for COVID-19 due to its anti-inflammatory properties, as the virus is known to cause widespread inflammation, particularly in the heart and lungs, Bhatt said.

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It is also inexpensive and widely available, he said.

For this study, Bhatt and his colleagues compared results following treatment with the drug plus usual care in 640 COVID-19 patients at Brigham and Women's Hospital with those of 639 who received usual care alone.

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Just under 92% of the study participants received corticosteroids as part of their usual care regimen, the researchers said.

At the time the study was conducted, between April 2020 and March of this year, the antivirals molnupiravir and Paxlovid were not yet cleared for use in patients with COVID-19.

Of the 640 patients treated with colchicine plus usual care, 160 required mechanical ventilation or died within 28 days of starting therapy, compared with 184 of 639 patients in the usual care group.

Within 28 days of starting therapy, 131 of the colchicine-treated patients died compared with 142 of the usual care patients.

Based on the findings, colchicine should not be considered in COVID-19 patients "without further larger, definitive randomized trials that show clear benefit," Bhatt said.

"Hopefully, such trials will occur, but it may be challenging to find funding to conduct trials that are large enough to be definitive," he said.

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