Northwell Health researchers are studying a heartburn drug ingredient in treating coronavirus patients.

New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health more than a month ago quietly began a clinical trial of famotodine, an ingredient used in heartburn drug Pepcid, to treat COVID-19 patients.

The 23-hospital system began providing the ingredient intravenously at nine times the dose used to treat heartburn, according to an article in Sciencemag.com. The system said it didn’t announce this trial at the time, even as it announced others, out of a concern that widely publicizing it could lead to problems in securing an intravenous version of the ingredient, after seeing demand surge for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

“If we talked about this to the wrong people or too soon, the drug supply would be gone,” Dr. Kevin Tracey, CEO of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Northwell Health’s research arm, told ScienceMag.com in an article published Sunday.

This study is in addition to two other clinical trials for coronavirus treatments being conducted at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research that Northwell announced in March.

That website indicated nearly 200 COVID-19 patients in critical status, including those on ventilators, already have been given the medication intravenously as part of a clinical trial targeting nearly 1,200 patients.

Northwell funded the clinical trial initially on its own, after which the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) provided Florida-based Alchem Laboratories, a medication manufacturer, with $20.7 million to help with the research.

Northwell Health is using an intravenous version of the ingredient rather than the over-the-counter medication used for heartburn. Limited research in China seemed to indicate patients with heartburn on famotidine died at a lower rate than those not on the drug, an observation far from a clinical trial that could result from other factors. Computer modeling also indicated that several dozen medications, including famotidine, could show promise.

Northwell Health ran into an unusual situation as it sought to do a clinical trial of this drug. Since so many people at the time the trial began were being given hydroxychloroquine, itself an unproved treatment, the healthcare system found it needed to include patients receiving that medication in its trial.

Northwell Health is using patients receiving famotidine and hydroxychloroquine, hydroxychloroquine only and patients treated earlier with neither.

The clinical trial has been continuing with results expected to be reported soon.

“If it does work,” Tracey told Sciencemag.com, “we’ll know in a few weeks.”

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