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US study finds diabetes drug metformin may reduce COVID death risk by half

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The widely available diabetes drug metformin may reduce the risk of emergency room visits, hospitalisation, and death from COVID-19 by more than half if taken within four days of the start of the symptoms, according to a study.

The researchers from the University of Minnesota in the US noted that metformin, also known as Glucophage, has been used in the 1950s as an anti-viral called “Fluamine.”

In more recent research, the drug has been found to affect inflammation pathways, they said.

Since COVID-19 involves viral inflammation, the research team thought the combination of anti-inflammatory plus antiviral action was intriguing enough to test the drug.

“This was really intriguing to us early on when we learned that people who take metformin were catching COVID-19 less and being hospitalised less,” said Elaine Lissner, founder of California-based nonprofit Parsemus Foundation.

The study, published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), compared three medications that were considered promising — fluvoxamine, an antidepressant that had shown strong results in previous studies, ivermectin, the object of much interest, and metformin.

The study included 1,323 participants most at risk of serious outcomes — adults over 30 and with Body Mass Index (BMI) over 25 kilograms per square metre (kg/m2) — to get life-saving results more quickly.