Cheap antiparasitic could cut chance of Covid-19 deaths by up to 75%

Researchers hail ivermectin findings but say more studies needed on using drug.

A cheap, off-patent antiparasitic drug has been shown to have a significant effect in reducing mortality in patients with moderate to severe Covid-19.

Researchers have hailed the preliminary finding as a pivotal step towards broadening the arsenal of drugs used against the disease.

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The University of Liverpool’s Andrew Hill and others carried out a meta-analytical breakdown of 18 studies that found that ivermectin was associated with reduced inflammation and a faster elimination of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

In six of these trials, the risk of death was reduced by 75 per cent in a subset of patients with moderate to severe Covid-19.

The only antiviral with some sort of approval globally to treat Covid-19 is Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir, which has shown some benefit in shortening hospital stays but no clear-cut effect on mortality or viral loads, a measure of how much virus circulates in a patient’s blood stream.

Ivermectin is technically not an antiviral, though these results suggest that the drug may enjoy antiviral properties. It is usually used to treat lice and scabies infestations as well as more serious parasites such as river blindness.

Dr Hill said the ivermectin results were encouraging, but further studies were needed to provide global regulators with evidence robust enough to warrant approvals.

“It’s a generic drug used all over the world. It costs 12 cents to make the drug substance. The drug costs $3 in India, $960 in the US,” Dr Hill told the Financial Times.

The drug could make it harder for people to be infected and it could be harder for those with the disease to infect anyone else, the researchers have posited.

“If people testing positive for Covid-19 are treated immediately with a drug which clears the virus quickly, this might make them less infectious,” Dr Hill said. “This ‘treatment as prevention’ strategy works for HIV and should now be tested for Covid-19.”

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