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No stones being unturned: Fluoxetine to disrupt viral replication in COVID-19 affected patients.
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No stones being unturned: Fluoxetine to disrupt viral replication in COVID-19 affected patients.

German experts speculate that Fluoxetine- an antidepressant drug can potentially reduce the viral replication in COVID-19 patients. Here’s more…

The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unparalleled times for humanity. The measures taken to contain the virus have triggered a global economic crisis. At this point, with no discovery of vaccines or treatment, there is a question of uncertainty and length of the pandemic. Scientists and healthcare practitioners around the world are working around the
clock to figure out a solution. From several drugs like Remdesivir to Hydroxychloroquine, several medications are being given a chance to fight the deadly virus COVID-19.

Recently a research team from the Institute of Virology and Immunobiology, Germany reported that fluoxetine an antidepressant drug can help the affected patients in fighting the virus. The antidepressant drug is reported to reduce the viral replication inside the host when administered at a dose of 0.8 µg/mL.

A cytokine storm

To survive within the host it infects, COVID-19 successfully silences the inflammatory response. This is done by blocking the immune response from immune cells such as macrophages. As a defense mechanism, the infected cells commit suicide. Maintaining a right balance of innate response is important for a host’s body to fight off the virus.

Some patients tested COVID-19 positive can trigger inflammation also named cytokines in the immune system which in turn triggers immune cells like neutrophils who are functioned to kill the pathogens by arriving at the site of infection. When the production of the cytokines turn uncontrollable, immunologists describe it as a cytokine storm. During this storm, the blood vessels dilate, leading to a low blood pressure causing blood to enter the lungs and summon more immune cells to target and kill the pathogen. This process results in a fluid build-up and ends up in organ failure. The cytokine storm is one of the important pathways followed by the virus COVID-19, leaving devastating damage within the host.

How can fluoxetine help?

Fluoxetine is an FDA approved drug which has been long used as a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor to keep conditions like anxiety, depression in check. Serotonin known as the happy hormone is absorbed to be less in patients suffering from depression. It was noticed that when serotonin was released by brain cells, other cells refuse to absorb it, leading to the first cells to retake it.

Fluoxetine helps in inhibiting this particular reuptake, allowing more brain cells to absorb the serotonin. In case of COVID-19, this particular anti-depression drug can potentially suppress the cytokine storm. There have been various studies previously published stating the antiviral effects of fluoxetine.

Around April 13th of 2020, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis announced its first clinical trial to study the efficacy of fluoxetine in treating COVID-19. Currently, another trial is being held at the University of Toledo Health Science Campus, USA, who have enrolled 2000 COVID-19 positive participants, to specifically study the effects of fluoxetine in reducing the cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients.

The patent for fluoxetine has long expired, giving the liberty for any company to manufacture it. In case this drug proves to be effective against COVID-19, it can be easily made and available for a large number of people at a reasonable cost.

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