Teaching an old drug new tricks: a commonly used medication is repurposed to treat COVID-19

News / General / Research

COVID-19 is a dangerous, worldwide pathogen, stressing health systems and requiring novel thinking to help those sick enough to require mechanical ventilation. Dr. John Muscedere, a researcher at Kingston General Health Research Institute, is working with colleagues across the country to study a unique treatment for these patients – furosemide, a commonly used diuretic. It is safe, inexpensive and can be administered locally to the lungs, possibly reducing COVID-19 symptoms and potentially helping intubated patients achieve a faster recovery. 

Furosemide has been in clinical use since the 1960s, is a well-studied small molecule that can be easily and rapidly produced, and has potent anti-inflammatory activity when delivered in high concentrations by inhalation.  When given by inhalation, it does not have diuretic effects. “The repurposing of this commonly used medication has great promise as a treatment for severe COVID-19” says Dr. Muscedere, who is an intensivist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, the Research Director of the Critical Care Program, and the Scientific Director and CEO of the Canadian Frailty Network. “Along with addressing the shortcomings of larger molecule therapeutics such tocilizumab which are in short supply and have systemic side-effects, it is easy to administer directly to the lungs of patients who have been intubated.” The study, funded by LifeArc Charities in the U.K., will operate in six centres across Canada and focus on intubated patients suffering from COVID-19. Randomly-assigned patients will receive the treatment four times daily until they have been weaned off mechanical ventilation.

Along with being easy to produce, Furosemide is also inexpensive compared to many biologics, which makes it a potentially good treatment for developing countries. And while the study is initially focused on COVID-19 patients, it has the potential to provide new treatments for other cases of respiratory failure. “The study will help us test new ideas for a direct lung treatment for COVID-19 that can be produced globally,” says Dr. Muscedere. “It also provides us with valuable information for a potential new avenue of therapy for patients with severe respiratory disease.”

As the research arm of the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, KGH Research Institute promotes basic and clinical medical research and experimental development to produce knowledge that transforms discovery into new treatments, cures, and better patient care.