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    A popular treatment for Covid-19 shows no sign of alleviating the disease

    Anti-parasite drug ivermectin has become a popular alternative treatment for Covid-19, even though there isn’t a lot of strong research to back it up.

    According to the findings of a big clinical experiment published on Wednesday, the anti-parasitic medicine ivermectin, which has gained popularity as an alternative treatment for Covid-19 despite a lack of robust data to back it up, showed no signs of relieving the disease.

    The trial, which involved over 1,300 individuals infected with the coronavirus in Brazil who were given either ivermectin or a placebo, effectively ruled out ivermectin as a treatment for Covid, according to the study’s authors.

    “There’s really no sign of any benefit,” says Dr. David Boulware, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Minnesota.

    The researchers presented a summary of their findings in August during an online version offered by the National Institutes of Health, but the full data set was not published until now in The New England Journal of Medicine.

    “Now that people can dive into the details and the data, hopefully that will steer the majority of doctors away from ivermectin towards other therapies,” Dr. Boulware added.

    Ivermectin has been regularly used to treat parasite infections for decades. Laboratory investigations on cells revealed that ivermectin might prevent the coronavirus early in the pandemic, when researchers were testing thousands of old medications against Covid-19.

    Skeptics said at the time that the tests succeeded because the drug was used at extremely high quantities, much above what is considered safe for humans. Despite the FDA’s warning that ivermectin was not approved for this usage, some clinicians began prescribing it for Covid-19.

    Small clinical trials were conducted all over the world to evaluate if the medicine was effective in treating the disease. Andrew Hill, a virologist at the University of Liverpool in England, analyzed the findings of 23 trials in December 2020 and concluded that ivermectin looked to reduce the chance of death from Covid-19 considerably.

    “This really is going to be a transformative treatment,” Dr. Hill stated at the time in a presentation if additional trials verified similar findings.

    In the second year of the pandemic, ivermectin’s popularity grew even more. Joe Rogan, a podcaster, talked about it a lot on his shows. Insurance companies in the United States paid $2.4 million for ivermectin treatments in a single week in August.

    However, not long after Dr. Hill’s study was released last summer, reports emerged claiming that several of the research he included in the analysis were defective and, in at least one case, fraudulent. Dr. Hill retracted his previous study and began a new one in January, which he published.

    Dr. Hill and his colleagues focused their second review on the studies that were least likely to be biased. The benefit of ivermectin vanished in that more stringent study.

    Even the finest ivermectin and Covid studies had a small sample size, with only a few hundred volunteers at most. Small studies are susceptible to statistical flukes that falsely show positive outcomes when none exist. However, larger ivermectin investigations were underway at the time, and they promised to be more thorough.

    In June 2020, researchers in Brazil launched the TOGETHER clinical trial, which would test Covid patients with a variety of commonly used medications, including ivermectin. The treatments were double-blinded, which meant that neither the patients nor their doctors knew whether they were receiving a Covid therapy or a placebo.

    The researchers discovered intriguing indications that an antidepressant medicine called fluvoxamine reduced the requirement for hospitalization by one-third in one round of the trial. In October, the authors published their findings in The Lancet Global Health.

    The TOGETHER team revealed its ivermectin data in a new paper published on Wednesday. The researchers gave the medicine to 679 people over the period of three days between March and August 2021.

    The findings were clear: using ivermectin did not lessen the likelihood of a Covid patient being admitted to the hospital.

    The researchers focused on several groups of volunteers to see if they benefited in ways that others did not. It’s possible, for example, that ivermectin is only effective if given early in an illness. However, individuals who received ivermectin within the first three days after a positive coronavirus test had worse outcomes than those who received a placebo.

    Dr. Hill was blown away by the results.

    “They have run a high-quality, placebo-controlled trial,” he said. He also expressed impatience with the New England Journal of Medicine for taking months to publish the results: “I don’t understand the delay with this trial from NEJM.”

    A representative for the journal, Julia Morins, declined to comment on the delay.

    “We don’t comment on the editorial process, as it’s confidential,” she said in an email.

    Dr. Hill has re-run his ivermectin study analysis, this time including the new TOGETHER trial data. In total, he interviewed over 5,000 people for his study. Ivermectin provided no advantage to him once more.

    Despite this, there are multiple ongoing randomized ivermectin trials with thousands of volunteers that have yet to publish their findings. For more than a year, the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences has been conducting a widely monitored trial of ivermectin and many other medications for Covid patients. However, the results have yet to be released.

    Dr. Sarah Dunsmore, a program director in NCATS’ clinical innovations division, said the first batch of ivermectin results were being analyzed and will be released in two to three months.

    Because the TOGETHER trial was so large and carefully organized, Dr. Boulware believed that the following studies would reach a different outcome.

    “Rarely would you expect to find something different,” he said.

    Dr. Paul Sax, an infectious disease expert at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital who was not involved in the TOGETHER research, agreed with Dr. Boulware’s assessment.

    “I welcome the results of the other clinical trials and will view them with an open mind, but at some point it will become a waste of resources to continue studying an unpromising approach,” he said.

    Image Credit: Getty

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