AstraZeneca Plc is testing one of its diabetes drugs as a treatment for COVID-19, even as doctors are advising diabetes patients infected by the coronavirus to stop taking the medicine and others like it because of a potentially dangerous side effect.
Dapagliflozin, sold under the brand name Farxiga, belongs to a class of widely prescribed diabetes medicines known as SGLT2 inhibitors, which help control blood glucose levels by increasing the amount of sugar excreted through urine.
The drug also has been shown to reduce the risk of death and hospitalization from heart failure and slow progression of kidney failure. The study will test whether its protective effects extend to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that can lead to heart and kidney complications.
The trial of 900 hospitalized patients, dubbed DARE-19, will test Farxiga against a placebo with results expected by December. The international study began in April.
“While we don’t fully understand the mechanisms of how these medications protect the heart and kidneys, we know that they do,” said Dr. Mikhail Kosiborod, a cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City who is leading the COVID-19 trial.
“We know that they do that in patient populations that have cardio metabolic disease – exactly the same patient population that are at such high risk in the setting of COVID-19,” he added.
If successful, doctors will have to weigh the benefits to COVID-19 patients against the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, a type of blood poisoning that can lead to coma or death that has been linked to SGLT2 inhibitors.
Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir is the only treatment that has demonstrated benefit for COVID-19 patients in a large, placebo-controlled trial. Drugmakers are testing dozens of additional therapies to help mitigate a pandemic that has killed more than 350,000 people worldwide.