Chill Pill

CHOMP cardiologist Richard Gray is seeking adults willing to take part in a global clinical trial of colchicine, an anti-inflammatory that could help treat Covid-19.

Early in the pandemic, cardiologist Richard Gray, director of the Tyler Heart Institute at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, got an invitation from fellow cardiologist David Waters at UC San Francisco. Would CHOMP participate in a global clinical trial of a common anti-inflammatory drug for treating Covid-19 patients? At the time, Monterey County’s case numbers were relatively low. “I didn’t think we could help,” Gray says.

Now, as Monterey County’s Covid-19 confirmed cases have surpassed the 13,000 mark, with 111 deaths as of Nov. 17, Gray believes CHOMP can help in possibly solving one of the most vexing challenges of Covid-19: calming the overreaction of some people’s immune systems to the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. For most people, the immune system does what it’s supposed to do in fighting it. For others, their system swings too far the other way, triggering life-threatening conditions like hyperinflammation which can overwhelm the body’s organs.

The double-blind trial came out of a question by researchers at McGill University in Montreal. They wondered if the drug colchicine could effectively treat hyperinflammation in Covid patients. Colchicine has been used for decades to treat gout, a type of painful arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints. It’s an effective drug with few side effects and tolerated well by the majority of patients, Gray says. More recently colchicine has been used to treat pericarditis, an inflammation of tissue surrounding the heart.

Researchers named the trial ColCorona and are enlisting the participation of adult patients over the age of 40 newly diagnosed with the virus within 24 hours. Giving the drug to patients early while still convalescing at home could prevent hospitalizations and lung complications leading to more aggressive treatment, like the use of ventilators.

Ultimately, it could prevent deaths due to complications.

“We want to be sure we’re treating early enough. If early makes the difference, we want to make sure we’re not missing the opportunity,” Gray says. Half of the participants in the study will receive colchicine and half will receive a placebo. Only researchers will know who received what.

Besides Monterey County, the trial is also available in San Francisco, Bakersfield and Los Angeles, as well as the New York City area and other parts of the U.S., and in Spain, South Africa and Brazil. Researchers want to find about 6,000 people total – Gray says locally they’re looking for at least 20 eligible participants.

This is the first week CHOMP is reaching out to the community looking for patients willing to take part. Fliers in English and Spanish are being distributed to clinics and doctor’s offices. Once someone is accepted into the study, a 30-day supply of pills is delivered to their home within four hours. They must take the pills every day. They will be contacted by either cell phone or email at the 15 – and 30-day marks to be asked how they are doing. Researchers will look at whether people get better or worse, if they need to be hospitalized and for how long, and if they need a ventilator.

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