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Big Data Could Give Clues To New COVID-19 Treatments

Famotidine, the active ingredient in Pepcid and aspirin may reduce the risk of deadly cases of COVID.

Millions of Americans take famotidine – the active ingredient in Pepcid – to treat heartburn, and millions more take aspirin. Based on a review of about 20,000 patients, senior scientist Cameron Mura says they’re less likely to contract a serious or deadly case of COVID.

“If a patient was using both Famotidine – and again, that’s like over-the-counter Pepcid and such – and aspirin, it tended to improve their rates of survival, lessen the severity of the disease trajectory.”

Mura and Bourne
UVA Senior Scientist Cam Mura and Data School Dean Phil Bourne

Mura says people who suffer a dangerous case of COVID often experience an over-reaction by their immune system.

“It’s a bit like your body’s own immune system taking a sledge hammer to kill a gnat when really a fly swatter would have done the job.”

The Dean of the School of Data Science, Phil Bourne, is quick to add that studies are needed to prove that famotidine and aspirin offer protection from the most serious forms of COVID. “I don’t think we have this definitive point by any means with respect to this," he says. "It’s just a piece of work that creates a pointer for further study.”

But Bourne thinks this finding perfectly illustrates the potential of big data from electronic medical records to reveal patterns and promote new uses for drugs that already have FDA approval.

“Because of the amount of data that’s now coming in a digital and usable form that it will impact the quality of healthcare and how we treat patients profoundly in years to come," he explains.

Of course doctors are clear that the best way to avoid a serious case of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and not get infected in the first place.