Experimental Coronavirus Treatment Colchicine to Be Sent to Patients' Homes Hours After COVID-19 Diagnosis

Scientists in the U.S. plan to send an existing drug to COVID-19 patients within hours of them being diagnosed to see if it could prevent them from becoming seriously ill.

Teams at UC San Francisco (UCSF) and New York University School of Medicine will send the anti-inflammatory drug colchicine to people's homes within 48 hours of them testing positive for coronavirus, according to a statement.

Dr. Priscilla Hsue, a professor of medicine at UCSF and principal investigator of the institution's arm of the study, told Newsweek the trial will start in California on Tuesday.

As participants can stay at home during the study, Hsue said, "This decreases risk of exposure to others, use of PPE [personal protective equipment] and need for travel."

She said she believes this "contactless" approach "can be easily scaled up to on a global level including resource limited settings."

Colchicine is currently used to treat gout, as well as the genetic condition Familial Mediterranean Fever (which causes the body temperature to recurrently go out of normal range), and the blood vessel inflammation disorder Behcet's syndrome.

Led by the Montreal Heart Institute in Canada, researchers in that country and soon Europe will also help conduct the study, named COLCORONA. The teams hope to recruit 6,000 COVID-19 patients in total.

To take part, participants must be aged at least 40 and be at risk of suffering COVID-19 complications, for instance by having diabetes, heart disease, chronic pulmonary disease or being aged 70 or above. They must also live in the geographic region of the study site so they can be sent the drugs. Some volunteers will be randomly assigned colchicine, while others will be given the placebo as the control group.

Those who fit these criteria are invited to apply by phone. If accepted, they will sign a digital consent form on a cell phone or computer. A courier will deliver the drug four hours after they are accepted. Between 15 to 30 days later, researchers will follow up with participants on the phone or via a video chat. People interested in taking part can call (877) 536-6837 or visit this website.

Hsue said in a statement: "This is one of the very few COVID-19 trials designed specifically for patients who have not yet been hospitalized."

It is hoped colchicine will prevent what is known as a cytokine storm, where the immune system dangerously overreacts.

Hsue told Newsweek: "Colchicine has been used successfully for decades to reduce inflammation and recently in the COLCOT study was shown to significantly reduce cardiovascular events when taken after a heart attack. It has a well established safety profile.

"When taken early in the disease process, we hope that colchicine will significantly reduce inflammation and subsequent cytokine storm that is related to respiratory complications of COVID-19."

She explained: "Ultimately the thought is by early intervention using a medication that is safe and doesn't require intensive monitoring that we will have the ability to prevent hospitalizations and clinical progression among individuals with COVID-19."

The team are among scientists racing to find drugs for COVID-19, as there are currently no specific ways to treat or prevent the disease caused by the coronavirus. The experimental anti-viral remdesivir, the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, and convalescent plasma therapy—where the blood of COVID-19 survivors is pumped into current patients—are among potential treatments being investigated.

According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 2.4 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide, and 170,399 have died. Over 652,000 people have recovered. The Statista map below shows, the U.S. has the most known COVID-19 cases in the world.

This article has been updated with comment from Priscilla Hsue.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
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  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
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  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.