Patients in Psychiatric Wards Were Protected Against the Effect of COVID-19 According to French Study

According to a study conducted by French researchers, taking psychotropic drugs commonly used for mental disorders in mental institutions could have a preventive effect against SARS-CoV-2.



Psychotropic drugs used in psychiatric wards may have a protective effect against Covid-19.

Do psychotropic drugs and antihistamines have the power to protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection?

A team of researchers and clinicians from INSERM, AP-HP, the University of Lille, Paris, Paris-Est Créteil, and the FondaMental Foundation is further looking into this hypothesis. In a study published in the journal Drug Discovery, they explain that some drugs commonly prescribed in psychiatry, such as psychotropic drugs antipsychotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, psychostimulants, and antihistamines, have a protective effect against infection with the novel coronavirus.

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18 identified psychotropic drugs

How did the researchers make this discovery? They explain that at the beginning of the epidemic they “intuitively thought that patients suffering from mental disorders would be at a greater risk of infection”: failure to comply with protective measures delayed access to health services due to social discrimination, hospitalization in psychiatric wards that promote the spread of infections and a high prevalence of high-risk co-morbidity (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity)”. However, although specialized COVID-19 units have been set up for psychiatric patients, these units “remained almost empty during the period of confinement”. This suggests, according to the research team, “that these patients may have a reduced risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection under medical supervision”. This raised an interesting question: does the pharmacological treatment of these patients play a role in the protective effect observed?

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To find out, the researchers identified for the first time the 18 most commonly used drugs in patients with mental disorders who were admitted or followed in the psychiatric unit of Henri-Mondor Hospital in Créteil from 2019 to April 2020. They are antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, mood regulators, antihistamines, and nicotine, which are prescribed to stop smoking.

Similar to chloroquine

After analyzing the molecules of the drugs, the researchers found that these psychotropic drugs have antiviral effects in vitro. In their opinion, the reason for this is their composition, which contains cationic amphiphilic drugs (CAD) known to interfere with intracellular exchange and phospholipase D (PLD). The researchers point out that “the highly controversial malaria drugs, chloroquine, and hydroxychloroquine” are also CAD and PLD compounds.

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“In the scientific literature, they have been found to have antiviral properties that prevent the virus from entering the body by disrupting the movement of the virus. All these actions could have a protective effect against the virus entering cells,” Professor Marion Leboyer, a psychiatrist at Henri-Mondor Hospital in Créteil and director of the FondaMental Foundation.

“We suggest that some of the drugs usually prescribed to psychiatric patients could protect them from SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the researchers concluded. Further testing is currently underway to identify and test the molecules in vitro and in clinical settings before potential human clinical trials are initiated.


Prevention of COVID-19 by drug repurposing: rationale from drugs prescribed for mental disorders

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