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Ancient Greek Drug Could Lower COVID-19 Deaths

An ancient Greek drug made from saffron, the pistils of crocuses, could be used to cut down deaths from COVID-19. Credit: Salonik Saffron, CC BY-SA 4.0

An ancient Greek drug made from saffron, obtained from the pistils of crocus flowers, could potentially be used to reduce severe illness and death for patients with COVID-19.

A report published at the beginning of the European Journal of Internal Medicine found that the drug, known as colchicine, is capable of cutting COVID-19 fatalities down by up to fifty percent.

The study was conducted by Ami Schattner, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah Medical School. The use of colchicine was first recorded in an ancient Egyptian papyrus from 1550 BC but was later popularized by physicians in ancient Greece. It is one of the rare ancient medications that has remained potent and effective into the modern day.

Schattner conducted research on every patient given the drug in controlled trials in the past two years. He concluded that colchicine is indeed an effective treatment for COVID-19.

Four controlled studies with six thousand COVID-19 patients using colchicine have now been published. Schattner said that each study showed “significant improvement in severe coronavirus indices and, most importantly, there was a decrease in mortality by about [fifty percent] compared to those who were not treated with colchicine.”

Colchicine is inexpensive and effective

Schattner added that the medication is inexpensive and only requires a half-milligram dose daily. The drug has already been determined to be safe, which makes it “an important discovery that could significantly contribute to improving the morbidity and mortality of many patients if confirmed in further studies.”
“As is well known, patients who have had a heart attack are at a significantly increased risk of recurrence and stroke, and these are very many patients,” Schattner said. “Studies from recent years have found that thanks to its anti-inflammatory activity on the atherosclerotic layers in the arteries, colchicine in small daily doses is able to effectively protect these patients.”
Schattner also added that “the level of protection was to the point of preventing about half of the recurrent events, and this impressive beneficial effect was also achieved in patients who had already undergone therapeutic catheterization and had taken optimal preventive treatment by aspirin and statins,” he added.
“This is important news for a very large number of patients,” Schattner concluded.
Although the drug is not yet available for general use, Ami Schattner says there will be more randomized controlled trials to prove the promising early results. Despite this, Schattner believes the drug could be used immediately for those who are high risk.
“Even though initial data on the effect of colchicine on coronavirus patients is very promising, more patients need to be in randomized controlled trials,” he said. “But that would not prevent me from using the drug already in patients with high risk, to hopefully lower their chances of developing severe disease.”
“The drug is low-cost for the patients and the community,” Ami Schattner said reassuringly. “By using it in corona patients, we have nothing to lose and much to gain.”
The COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel (the Panel) recommends against the use of colchicine for the treatment of non-hospitalized patients with COVID-19 except in a clinical trial ( BIIa ). The Panel recommends against the use of colchicine for the treatment of hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

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