A ‘specific form’ of ibuprofen is being tested as treatment for coronavirus - here’s how it could help

A special formulation of the drug could help to prevent severe breathing problems (Photo: Shutterstock)A special formulation of the drug could help to prevent severe breathing problems (Photo: Shutterstock)
A special formulation of the drug could help to prevent severe breathing problems (Photo: Shutterstock)

Scientists have launched a new trial to assess whether ibuprofen could be used to help treat hospital patients who are ill with coronavirus.

Researchers are assessing whether a special formulation of the anti-inflammatory drug could help to prevent severe breathing problems.

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Could ibuprofen keep patients off ventilators?

The trial is being led by a team from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College London, who believe that if the drug is delivered at a certain point in the illness, it will reduce severe respiratory problems.

As such, it is hoped that this could potentially lead to shorter hospital stays and mean fewer patients will require treatment in intensive care units, eliminating the need for ventilators.

The research team stressed that the trial is for hospitalised patients, rather than those who have mild or suspected coronavirus. Participants will be drawn from those who are in hospital with the virus, but are not so unwell that they are in need of intensive care.

Explaining the study, Prof Mitul Mehta, one of the team at King’s College London, said, “It's a trial for patients with Covid-19 disease to see if giving them an anti-inflammatory drug - a specific form of ibuprofen - will reduce the respiratory problems they have.

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"And if we can reduce their symptoms at that stage we have a number of benefits: we could reduce the amount of time that someone spends in hospital - they might recover quicker and go home, that's obviously a fantastic outcome; we also might be reducing the degree of respiratory distress so that it can be managed in the hospital setting, without needing to go to ICU. And that is a fantastic outcome as well.

"Theoretically, this treatment, given at this time, should be beneficial. But of course, this is based on animal studies. It's based on case reports, we need to do a trial to show that the evidence actually matches what we expect to happen."

A special ibuprofen formulation

Half of the patients enrolled in the trial will be given standard care, while the other half will also be given the special ibuprofen formulation. It is hoped that the way that the drug has been formulated will reduce potential gastric side effects linked to ibuprofen.

Prof Mehta said that animal studies into acute respiratory distress syndrome - a symptom of Covid-19 - shows that around 80 per cent of animals with this condition die.

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However, when they are given this special formulation of ibuprofen the survival rates increase to 80 per cent.

He said, "This is very promising. But of course it is an animal study, so we want to translate that really compelling result into humans."

Is ibuprofen safe to take with coronavirus?

When coronavirus first broke out, there were some concerns early on that ibuprofen might be bad for people to take, should they have had the virus with mild symptoms.

These concerns were later heightened, after French health minister Oliver Veran advised against its use, stating that taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, could aggravate the infection. Instead, he advised patients to take paracetamol.

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Scientists in the UK then launched a review to assess links between ibuprofen and coronavirus, with a review by the Commission on Human Medicines concluded that the drug, like paracetamol, was safe to take for coronavirus symptoms.

Both drugs were found to help bring a temperature down and help to relieve flu-like symptoms.

The review concluded, “There is currently insufficient evidence to establish a link between the use of ibuprofen and susceptibility to contracting Covid-19 or the worsening of its symptoms.”

The NHS advises people to take paracetamol first if you have mild symptoms of coronavirus, as it has fewer side effects than ibuprofen.