One of the world’s oldest medicines is now being tested to potentially fight one of the newest diseases.
Colchicine was first used as a health remedy by the ancient Greeks more than 2,000 years ago. It is an extract of the crocus flower.
The Greeks used it as a laxative. Six centuries later, the Byzantines discovered that colchicine eases the inflammation of gout. Today, the drug is still used to treat gout.
Doctors suspect that it may also help COVID-19 patients and have now begun clinical trials.
Why? Because many of the worst effects of the disease come not from the coronavirus itself, but from the immune system’s response to it. The body’s defenses can overreact, causing a “cytokine storm.”
Cytokines are proteins that control immune cells. A strong infection can trigger them to go into overdrive…leading to massive, widespread inflammation. This can cause serious—even fatal—damage to organs. In the case of COVID-19, the lungs can become too damaged to function.
Colchicine is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Medical experts hope it can help keep COVID-19 patients from becoming sick enough to require hospitalization.
In addition to gout, the drug is used to treat pericarditis—inflammation in the tissue surrounding the heart, and familial Mediterranean fever, a genetic condition that causes unstable body temperature.
Researchers from UC San Francisco and New York University School of Medicine have teamed up to test colchicine against COVID-19. Scientists hope to eventually try it on 6,000 patients.
They have begun sending the drug to people within two days of them testing positive for coronavirus.
The participants will be randomly chosen to get a 30-day supply of either colchicine or a placebo.
Anyone who fits the criteria and is interested in participating can inquire by calling (877) 536-6837.
Colchicine: Can It Turn COVID-19 Into a Mild Illness?
There are other studies looking at potential COVID-19 treatments—the drugs remdesivir, hydroxycholorquine, and cholorquine among them—but this is the only study focused on people who aren’t yet sick enough to be hospitalized. Colchicine could be a breakthrough if it shows that it can turn COVID-19 into a mild, nonfatal illness.
Dr. Priscilla Hsue, a professor of medicine at the University of California, is one of the principal researchers. She said that colchicine tablets are easy to take and inexpensive…unlike drugs tested in hospital patients, which are given by infusion or injection.
Another plus: Colchicine has a long history of safe use.
“Colchicine has been used successfully for decades to reduce inflammation,” said Dr. Hsue. “It has a well-established safety profile.”
The researchers hope that when patients take colchicine in the early stages of illness it will reduce inflammation and the potentially deadly cytokine storm.
If it works, the drug could “prevent hospitalizations and clinical progression among individuals with COVID-19,” said Dr. Hsue.
The coronavirus pandemic is a reminder that the newest and most expensive treatments are not always what work best. Ancient health remedies have stood the test of time for a reason: They ares effective and safe.
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