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Feinstein researchers study heartburn aid for potential COVID-19 relief

Bethpage residents Jennifer and Bill Scruggs are participating

Bethpage residents Jennifer and Bill Scruggs are participating in a clinical trial to study if the PEPCID heartburn medication can also counter inflammation in COVID-19 patients. Credit: Newsday, Northwell Health

Researchers on Long Island are looking for volunteers to help them determine whether an over-the-counter stomach aid could provide relief to people with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.

The clinical trial of famotidine, sold under the brand name PEPCID, is being conducted by the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Researchers are looking for people ages 18 and over who have tested positive for COVID-19, have mild to moderate symptoms and have not been hospitalized.

Feinstein Institutes is looking for 84 people who can participate 100% virtually from their homes. As of Monday, 19 people had enrolled.

"I think it’s really important to be able to give back to science," said Jennifer Scruggs, of Bethpage, who is participating in the trial with her husband, Bill.

While famotidine, a histamine-2 blocker, is used to reduce stomach acid in people with heartburn, researchers are looking to see if it also will halt the inflammatory response to COVID-19, said Dr. Joseph Conigliaro, professor at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and sub-investigator on the clinical trial.

"We use antihistamines when we treat allergic and inflammatory responses," he said.

One of the most serious impacts of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is that it can cause inflammation of the lungs.

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"From a public health standpoint, this trial is incredibly important in helping the pandemic," he said. "This could minimize the need for patients to go into the hospital."

Conigliaro said some previous research has found a link between use of famotidine and quicker recovery, as well as lower mortality among COVID-19 patients.

But an earlier effort at an inpatient clinical trial was inconclusive because the Feinstein Institutes, the research arm of Northwell Health, was unable to enroll enough participants during a time when hospitalization rates were lower.

By making the clinical trial virtual, Conigliaro and others hope it will be easier for people to take part in the study from their homes. He also noted that famotidine has been used for 40 years.

"This is not an experimental drug," Conigliaro said. "It’s safe and readily available."

People in the trial receive a package of equipment they can use at home, including an iPad, a Bluetooth-enabled scale, thermometer and fitness tracker, along with a spirometer that measures how much air you can breathe in and out of your lungs, and a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen levels.

"We want to get patients who are diagnosed with COVID early on this medication so that we prevent the inflammatory response," Conigliaro said.

Over a period of 14 days, participants take three daily doses of either a placebo or PEPCID and use the equipment to check their vital signs. The information is sent and monitored by medical staffers.

Staff from Northwell’s Home Lab will visit participants at their homes to take blood samples and COVID-19 diagnostic nasal swab tests.

Conigliaro said trial participants will be monitored for 28 days. Northwell will check in with all participants at 60 days, when they will be formally released from the trial.

Jennifer and William Scruggs said they decided to participate in the study after reading about it on social media. The couple tested positive several days after their youngest daughter found out she had COVID-19.

"I initially tested negative," said Jennifer, 48, a corporate associate at Northwell Health. "Then I was spraying Lysol and realized I couldn’t smell it anymore. I knew I had to get tested again."

Bill, 51, who works in the fleet department of Con Edison, came down with fever and chills a few days later.

Jennifer Scruggs said she was happy to know a doctor was monitoring her vital signs and symptoms while she recovered from home.

She completed her 14 days of medication earlier this month and is being monitored. Bill Scruggs will finish his 14 days of medication on Wednesday and then be monitored for another 14 days.

"This virus is so new, there is so much we can learn from it with every study," Jennifer Scruggs said. "I knew once I was eligible, this is something I would do."

TO JOIN THE PEPCID TRIAL

  • Researchers are looking for people ages 18 and over who have tested positive for COVID-19, have mild to moderate symptoms and have not been hospitalized.
  • Over a period of 14 days, participants will take three daily doses of either a placebo or PEPCID and use equipment provided by researchers to check their vital signs.
  • Anyone interested in participating in the clinical trial is asked to email Clinicaltrials@northwell.edu for more information.

SOURCE: Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research

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