A Birds-Eye (Re)View of gastric acid-suppressing drugs, COVID-19, and the highly variable reports.

Key Messages

This review explores the inconsistencies between the findings of previous studies that have investigated the potential benefits of famotidine for treating COVID-19.

Possible approaches are suggested for ways to resolve the inconsistencies reported.

Frontiers in Pharmacology

Publication Date: August 11, 2021
Peer Reviewed: Yes
Publication Type: Review/Commentary/Letter
DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.700703

A Birds-Eye (Re)View of Acid-Suppression Drugs, COVID-19, and the Highly Variable Literature

Cameron Mura, Saskia Preissner, Robert Preissner, Philip E. Bourne


This Perspective examines a recent surge of information regarding the potential benefits of acid-suppression drugs in the context of COVID-19, with a particular eye on the great variability (and, thus, confusion) that has arisen across the reported findings, at least as regards the popular antacid famotidine. The degree of inconsistency and discordance reflects contradictory conclusions from independent, clinical-based studies that took roughly similar approaches, in terms of both experimental design (retrospective, observational, cohort-based, etc.) and statistical analysis workflows (propensity-score matching and stratification into sub-cohorts, etc.). The contradictions and potential confusion have ramifications for clinicians faced with choosing therapeutically optimal courses of intervention: e.g., do any potential benefits of famotidine suggest its use in a particular COVID-19 case? (If so, what administration route, dosage regimen, duration, etc. are likely optimal?) As succinctly put this March in Freedberg et al. (2021), “…several retrospective studies show relationships between famotidine and outcomes in COVID-19 and several do not.” Beyond the pressing issue of possible therapeutic indications, the conflicting data and conclusions related to famotidine must be resolved before its inclusion/integration in ontological and knowledge graph (KG)-based frameworks, which in turn are useful for drug discovery and repurposing. As a broader methodological issue, note that reconciling inconsistencies would bolster the validity of meta-analyses which draw upon the relevant data-sources. And, perhaps most broadly, developing a system for treating inconsistencies would stand to improve the qualities of both 1) real world evidence-based studies (retrospective), on the one hand, and 2) placebo-controlled, randomized multi-center clinical trials (prospective), on the other hand. In other words, a systematic approach to reconciling the two types of studies would inherently improve the quality and utility of each type of study individually.