Colchicine, a well-known, time-tested, and widely-available drug used to treat gout, a complex form of arthritis, has proven effective in dramatically reducing complications of COVID-19 in out-of-hospital patients in a major scientific study made possible by the Centre de Coordination des Essais Cliniques de Montréal, lead by Jean-Claude Tardif, Director of the Research Centre at the Montreal Heart Institute and Professor of Medicine at the University of Montreal.
What is colchicine and how does it work?
A major factor that dictates how sick a COVID-19 patient might be is how well their immune system reacts when the foreign pathogen enters the body. Inflammation, a crucial defence mechanism in complex organisms, occurs during an infection in order to localize and eliminate pathogens while removing damaged tissues.
A surplus of blood flow with immune cells will aggregate around the pathogen. Think of the itchy, red bump of insect bites or the swelling from a sore throat. However, when the inflammatory response goes out of control in the case of severe COVID-19 patients, as a protein called "cytokine" used to regulate inflammation is being overproduced, the immune system starts to attack healthy cells, causing blood vessels to leak, which then leads to drops in blood pressure, formation of blood clots, and, in the worst case, organ failures. This sudden overproduction of inflammation-inducing cytokines is referred to by scientists as a “cytokine storm”, and is one of the major causes of death in COVID-19 patients.
Colchicine, an organic substance derived from plants, is by its nature used to reduce inflammation in the body by limiting the production of chemicals that form cytokines. For an in-depth explanation of how colchicine works, consult this entry from the US National Library of Medicine.
The scientific study led by Dr. Tardif took place in 5 countries: United States, Canada, Spain, South Africa, and Brazil. Dubbed “ColCorona”, it is a “randomized, placebo-controlled study. It is double-blind – which means neither doctor nor patient will know whether you are taking the trial medication or a placebo”, explained the study’s official website.
Volunteers of the study must pass these 6 key trial requirements.
- Been diagnosed with and currently have COVID-19.
- Must be 40 years old or over.
- Trial lasts 30 days from home.
- Daily intake of study medication or placebo.
- Must not be in hospital due to COVID-19.
- Must not be pregnant or breastfeeding.
The study started in March of 2020 and composed of 4159 COVID-19 patients. Results showed that colchicine has reduced hospitalizations by 25%, the need for mechanical ventilation by 50%, and overall deaths by a whopping 44%. According to a CBC report, the study costed around $14 million, funded largely by the Quebec government and other major organizations.
Tardif noted that the drug will also help alleviate congestion in hospitals and reduce healthcare costs worldwide, as colchicine is already available in most pharmacies and can be administered quickly by doctors fearing inflammatory complications in patients.