Colchicine, an oral tablet that Quebec researchers say could be used to treat COVID-19, is seen here.
MONTREAL — A team of researchers from the Montreal Heart Institute believe they have found an effective weapon against COVID-19: colchicine, an oral tablet already known and used for other diseases.
For Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif, who led the study, this is a “major scientific discovery,” he said. Colchicine is the first “effective oral drug to treat out-of-hospital patients.”
“To be able to offer this, from Quebec, and for the planet, we are very happy,” said Tardif.The ColCorona study involved 4,159 patients whose diagnosis of COVID-19 had been confirmed by a nasopharyngeal test (PCR).
Analysis of the study found that colchicine resulted in reductions in hospitalizations by 25 per cent, the need for mechanical ventilation by 50 per cent, and deaths by 44 per cent.
“This is the first hope for patients who have COVID, who are worried and who hope that they will not have complications,” said Tardif. Previously, “there were no tablets that could be taken by mouth and reduce the risks.”
Tardif said he believes that prescribing the drug could help reduce congestion in hospitals quickly and reduce health-care costs in Quebec and elsewhere.
“Our study showed the effectiveness of treatment using colchicine to prevent the phenomenon of the major inflammatory storm and reduce complications related to COVID-19,” he said.
As colchicine is a well-understood drug, it could be used very quickly to treat people with COVID-19, the researcher says.
“Colchicine is old as it is — we’ve been treating gout with it for hundreds of years — so it’s available in pharmacies,” Tardif said, speaking in French.
“So any doctor, tomorrow, who reads this can definitely decide to prescribe if he wants.”
On Friday evening, Quebec Premier Francois Legault called the study “big news” on social networks.
In the spring, Legault said the Colcorona study was one of the largest studies in the world researching ways to fight the virus.
The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was deployed in Canada, the United States, Europe, South America and South Africa.
“It was a double-blind study, meaning neither the patient, nor the team that ran the study, including me, knew whether the patient was taking the placebo or the drug,” explained Tardif.
“There was just one group, independent from us, which was aware.”
He said the team is “very proud of the work accomplished — it is a clinically convincing result,” adding that he assembled a spectacular team from all over Quebec including microbiologists, intensive care specialists, statisticians, computer scientists and epidemiologists.
The Centre de Coordination des Essais Cliniques de Montréal (MHICC) of the Montreal Heart Institute coordinated the study.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2021.