At the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, taking ibuprofen was considered a risk for virus carriers even with mild symptoms. Now, it may keep patients off ventilators.
Researchers in the United Kingdom are working to determine if ibuprofen, an everyday anti-inflammatory painkiller, can treat breathing difficulties in COVID-19 patients.
The London-based team is composed of researchers from Guy’s and St Thomas’ National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust, King’s College, and SEEK, a proprietary drug research firm.
The trial, called Liberate, involves the randomized distribution of ibuprofen to half of the patients in the study in addition to providing them with the usual COVID-19 care.
The Liberate researchers are using Flarin, a lipid capsule form of ibuprofen that differs from the regular tablets the average person would buy at a pharmacy. Flarin is available in the UK and has a special formulation to protect users’ stomachs. Some people already take the lipid capsules for conditions such as arthritis.
SEEK laboratory studies suggest Flarin lipid capsules may be more effective than standard ibuprofen in treating respiratory distress in COVID-19 patients.
Animal trials suggest the lipid capsules may treat a complication of severe COVID-19 infection: Acute respiratory distress syndrome. The team is conducting the Liberate trial to confirm their expectations for human results.
“As a new illness, there are limited treatment options for patients with COVID-19,” said Richard Beale, a professor of intensive care medicine. “The clinical trial will assess whether this unique formulation of an established drug benefits patients.”
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking ibuprofen was considered a risk for virus carriers even with mild symptoms.
In March, when cases reached unprecedented heights, French Health Minister Oliver Veran said taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, could worsen the infection. He advised patients to take paracetamol, an everyday medication used to treat fever and mild to moderate pain rather than ibuprofen.
Soon after the minister’s statements, Europe’s top Commission on Human Medicines concluded that ibuprofen was safe to take for coronavirus symptoms. Both ibuprofen and paracetamol can bring a temperature down and help with flu-like symptoms, the commission’s review found. Still, the UK’s NHS advises patients to first try paracetamol, as it has fewer side-effects than ibuprofen and is generally the safer choice.