Background: Until COVID-19 drugs specifically developed to treat COVID-19 become more widely accessible, it is crucial to identify whether existing medications have a protective effect against severe disease. Towards this objective, we conducted a large population study in Clalit Health Services (CHS), the largest healthcare provider in Israel, insuring over 4.7 million members.
Methods: Two case-control matched cohorts were assembled to assess which medications, acquired in the last month, decreased the risk of COVID‑19 hospitalization. Case patients were adults aged 18-95 hospitalized for COVID-19. In the first cohort, five control patients, from the general population, were matched to each case (n=6202); in the second cohort, two non-hospitalized SARS-CoV-2 positive control patients were matched to each case (n=6919). The outcome measures for a medication were: odds ratio (OR) for hospitalization, 95% confidence interval (CI), and the p‑value, using Fisher's exact test. False discovery rate was used to adjust for multiple testing.
Results: Medications associated with most significantly reduced odds for COVID-19 hospitalization include: ubiquinone (OR=0.185, 95% CI (0.058 to 0.458), p<0.001), ezetimibe (OR=0.488, 95% CI ((0.377 to 0.622)), p<0.001), rosuvastatin (OR=0.673, 95% CI (0.596 to 0.758), p<0.001), flecainide (OR=0.301, 95% CI (0.118 to 0.641), p<0.001), and vitamin D (OR=0.869, 95% CI (0.792 to 0.954), p<0.003). Remarkably, acquisition of artificial tears, eye care wipes, and several ophthalmological products were also associated with decreased risk for hospitalization.
Conclusions: Ubiquinone, ezetimibe and rosuvastatin, all related to the cholesterol synthesis pathway were associated with reduced hospitalization risk. These findings point to a promising protective effect which should be further investigated in controlled, prospective studies.
Funding: This research was supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, NCI.
Data were obtained from patients' electronic health records, and IRB approval restrains its use to researchers inside Clalit Health Services. For further information regarding data availability, researchers may contact Dr. Lavie firstname.lastname@example.orgThis study is based on real-world patient drug purchases, and it cannot be made available due to patient privacy concerns. R code used to produce Figure 1 is available as Supplemental File 1.
- Alejandro A Schäffer
- Kuoyuan Cheng
- Sanju Sinha
- Eytan Ruppin
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
Human subjects: This study has been approved by the CHS Institutional Review Board (IRB) with a waiver of informed consent, approval number: COM-0046-20.
- Frank L van de Veerdonk, Radboudumc Center for Infectious Diseases, Netherlands
This is an open-access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.
eLife has published articles on a wide range of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, influenza, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria and typhoid fever.
Although there are several efficacious vaccines against COVID-19, vaccination rates in many regions around the world remain insufficient to prevent continued high disease burden and emergence of viral variants. Repurposing of existing therapeutics that prevent or mitigate severe COVID-19 could help to address these challenges. The objective of this study was to determine whether prior use of bisphosphonates is associated with reduced incidence and/or severity of COVID-19.
A retrospective cohort study utilizing payer-complete health insurance claims data from 8,239,790 patients with continuous medical and prescription insurance January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 was performed. The primary exposure of interest was use of any bisphosphonate from January 1, 2019 to February 29, 2020. Bisphosphonate users were identified as patients having at least one bisphosphonate claim during this period, who were then 1:1 propensity score-matched to bisphosphonate non-users by age, gender, insurance type, primary-care-provider visit in 2019, and comorbidity burden. Main outcomes of interest included: (a) any testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection; (b) COVID-19 diagnosis; and (c) hospitalization with a COVID-19 diagnosis between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020. Multiple sensitivity analyses were also performed to assess core study outcomes amongst more restrictive matches between BP users/non-users, as well as assessing the relationship between BP-use and other respiratory infections (pneumonia, acute bronchitis) both during the same study period as well as before the COVID outbreak.
A total of 7,906,603 patients for whom continuous medical and prescription insurance information was available were selected. A total of 450,366 bisphosphonate users were identified and 1:1 propensity score-matched to bisphosphonate non-users. Bisphosphonate users had lower odds ratios (OR) of testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection (OR = 0.22; 95%CI:0.21–0.23; p<0.001), COVID-19 diagnosis (OR = 0.23; 95%CI:0.22–0.24; p<0.001), and COVID-19-related hospitalization (OR = 0.26; 95%CI:0.24–0.29; p<0.001). Sensitivity analyses yielded results consistent with the primary analysis. Bisphosphonate-use was also associated with decreased odds of acute bronchitis (OR = 0.23; 95%CI:0.22–0.23; p<0.001) or pneumonia (OR = 0.32; 95%CI:0.31–0.34; p<0.001) in 2019, suggesting that bisphosphonates may protect against respiratory infections by a variety of pathogens, including but not limited to SARS-CoV-2.
Prior bisphosphonate-use was associated with dramatically reduced odds of SARS-CoV-2 testing, COVID-19 diagnosis, and COVID-19-related hospitalizations. Prospective clinical trials will be required to establish a causal role for bisphosphonate-use in COVID-19-related outcomes.
This study was supported by NIH grants, AR068383 and AI155865, a grant from MassCPR (to UHvA) and a CRI Irvington postdoctoral fellowship, CRI2453 (to PH).